Minister tells pilots grievances will be heard (Lead)

May 15th, 2012 - 10:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi/Mumbai, May 15 (IANS) Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh Tuesday assured the striking pilots that all their grievances will be addressed and asked them to resume duties saying they have a responsibility toward the passengers and the country.

“I request pilots to come back to work and then all their issues can be discussed. I appeal to all the parties to request the pilots to come back to work, so that passengers will not be troubled and that Air India will be saved,” Singh said while replying to a debate on the civil aviation sector and Air India in the Lok Sabha.

“They (pilots) have made four demands including the exclusive rights to operate Boeing 787. I request to them to first come back to work… they are privileged and they provide very important service.”

The four demands mentioned by Singh from the pilots union Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) include exclusive flying right on Boeing 787, payment of arrears from 2007 onwards, travel on first class when not working and the right to be promoted as commanders within six years.

“We can discuss these demands. But is it fair to go on a strike, for not being allowed to fly first class? They get well paid and they have earned this. With great power comes great responsibility and their responsibility right now should be towards the passengers, the nation.”

Earlier, the members of the house including Gurudas Dasgupta of Communist Party of India (CPI), Basudeb Acharia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and members from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) appealed to the pilots and minister to work out a solution to end the strike.

Dasgupta urged the minister to be “magnanimous” and call the pilots for talks without any preconditions.

The strike, which entered the eighth day, saw cancellation of 10 more Air India flights. The carrier’s low-cost international wing, Air India Express, also cancelled four flights.

The airline meanwhile tried to stabilise its international operations by clubbing flights to destinations in Europe and the US.

“We have implemented the contingency plan, under which we will be operating a minimum number of international operations by clubbing flights to destinations in Europe and the US,” a senior Air India official with the operations arm told IANS.

“We have clubbed Delhi-Paris flights with those of Delhi-JFK (John F. Kennedy airport at New York). So, the flight has left Delhi and will land in Paris and then go onwards to New York and from there back to Delhi. We are monitoring the situation and informing the passengers in advance.”

The ongoing strike and subsequent flight cancellations by the airline have disrupted holiday and other travel plans of hundreds of people.

The airline has lost more than Rs.150 crore in the last eight days due to a grounded fleet, ticket cancellations and unused labour.

“The total losses in the week is around Rs.150 crore. We have faced ticket cancellation, unused labour and a bulk of our 777s fleet being grounded,” said the official.

The airline has stopped bookings on some of its ultra long-haul routes till May 15, effectively cancelling more than 15 flights per day to major sectors such as the US, Europe, and some other destinations like Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Trouble started for the airline May 8 when pilot-members of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) took mass sick leave protesting the move to provide Boeing-787 Dreamliner training to pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines.

The pilots had earlier said they were open to talks. But the government has not till now accepted the offer, saying there would be no negotiations till the pilots returned to work. The airline has also moved petitions in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court.

The apex court will hear the petition along with special leave petition (SLP) filed earlier by the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), the union of erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots. Air India and Indian Airlines were officially merged into a single corporate entity on Feb 27, 2011.

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