Air India cancels 150 flights as pilots continue strike (Second Lead)

May 1st, 2011 - 3:52 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, April 30 (IANS) Close to 150 flights were grounded and re-scheduled Saturday as nearly half of Air India’s 1,600 pilots continued their strike for the fourth day despite facing a possible six-month jail for contempt of court and prospect of a partial lockout.

Air India reportedly cancelled and re-scheduled 150 of its daily 225 domestic flights.
While 60 flights were cancelled in Mumbai, 14 were grounded in Kolkata and 12 in Kerala.

“We will operate just around 40 flights nationally, which includes 13 flights from Delhi, where on an average we have 52 flights,” a senior official with the operational arm of the airline said.

Thousands of stranded passengers across the country also were upset with the steep 50-75 percent hike in fares by private airlines.

The strike till Saturday has caused a net loss of Rs.35 crore to the airline, already facing one of its worst financial crises with losses mounting to nearly $3 billion since 2007 when Indian Airlines was merged with Air India.

According to the official, 100 domestic flights of its subsidiary arm of Alliance Air were still being run.

“Only the operations of Air India’s main domestic arm are effected. Our subsidiary Alliance Air is still active with 100 flights on the national network,” said the official.

He said the airline had since Thursday adopted a reduced operations plan, under which fewer flights by wide-bodied aircraft would be operated.

“Currently, our operations are going on smoothly. As we have stopped ticket bookings, passenger loads will also come down and we will be able to tide over this period,” the official said.

Air India Friday curtailed its regular operations by 55 percent from its normal daily schedule of 225.

The official rubbished the talk about a possible lockout of Air India, and termed it as “baseless rumours” floated by the unions.

“These are just rumours being floated about a lockout and nothing more. How can the national carrier be locked out? We have enough executive pilots to operate our flights,” the official said.

The official alleged that some pilots in the striking unions may be behind these rumours.

“It may be just to sensationalise their efforts in pressurising the management that these rumours are being floated by some striking pilots.”

According to the official, the possibility of the imposition of Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) or any other move may be some time away as the matter is subjudice.

“There is no basis in this lock-out talk. The management has said nothing, the government is with us and the matter is in court,” the official said.

According to another airline official, the management is also considering an extension in the suspension of further bookings beyond the originally planned Sunday.

“There are various options being considered. But certainly the pilots will not dictate terms.”

Pilots on their part apologised to passengers who were affected by the strike, but stuck to their demands, even leveling corruption charges against Air India chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav.

“We want an inquiry into various decisions taken by the Jadhav, we believe he is involved into corruption in various accounts like land transfer deal at Mumbai airport,” said A.S. Bhinder, central president Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA).

Air India in its reply said that they will welcome any inquiry into the issues raised by the union, but decided against grating the demands posted by the pilots.

Meanwhile, Delhi High Court Friday had initiated contempt proceedings against the members of the ICPA, the union behind the strike and whose members were on the payroll of erstwhile Indian Airlines.

Justice Gita Mittal initiated suo moto criminal contempt of court proceedings against the union after its members refused to return to work despite her earlier order, restraining them from going ahead with the strike or holding further demonstrations.

Thousands of stranded passengers across the country faced harrowing time as they searched for last minute alternatives.

In the Delhi-Mumbai sector, some passengers said the base fare of Rs.2,400-Rs.3,000 for last-minute bookings had been jacked up to as much as Rs.7,500 by some carriers, resulting in a one-way cost of Rs.11,500, including various levies.

“Some carriers are charging even more,” said Pallavi Garg, a teacher, who was looking at last-minute offers on some travel sites to go to Mumbai from the capital.

The minimum fare, she found, was Rs.6,198 and the maximum touched Rs.27,601 in Kingfisher and Jet.

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