Air India flights hit , pilots go on strike

New Delhi : National carrier Air India’s operations were disrupted Saturday as about 40 Air India pilots, upset over non-payment of salaries, reported “sick”, resulting in cancellation of several flights and leaving thousands of passengers stranded.

The government urged the pilots to return to work, saying it was studying their demand.

Delhi operations of the airline were the worst hit as 36 flights were cancelled, followed by four from Mumbai and two each from Kolkata and Chennai, leaving some 6,500 passengers stranded.

The cancellations in Delhi began right at dawn and continued throughout the day, an Air India official told IANS. “Nearly 40 pilots have called in sick,” he added.

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh asked the pilots to join back and promised to discuss their problems with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee Tuesday.

The talks will be aimed at improving the carrier’s financial status, which has left pilots without salaries for two months. A major component of the pay, productivity linked incentive (PLI), has not been paid for over four months.

PLI constitutes 20-60 percent of the total pay package.

“We are looking into the problem. The pilots did not give any notice… We know the pilots have problems and their salaries have not been paid and are under financial stress,” the minister said here.

He added that the airline management was talking to pilot unions.

Passengers stranded at the airports — particularly in Delhi — were furious.

“My Kolkata-bound flight at 9 a.m. was cancelled. I reached the airport a little after 7 a.m. but I was not informed that my flight has been cancelled,” complained Arun Gupta.

The airline is in talks with the pilot unions to sort out the issue.

“We are in talks with some pilot leaders in Delhi. We are taking all possible steps to help passengers like providing them flight information, getting them transferred to other airlines and providing them refunds,” the official said.

The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), which mainly comprises of erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots, has asked the pilots to return to work.

“The management has to initiate immediate steps to rein in the situation. We are not part of the protest but we understand their problems,” an ICPA spokesperson said.

Air India Managing Director Rohit Nandan Friday had said that employees’ dues for November would be paid by Saturday.

The carrier currently has a total debt of Rs.43,777 crore, including loans and dues it owes to vendors like oil firms and airport operators.

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