Airlines’ strike called off


MUMBAI – The Union government’s tough talk appears to have hit home with private airlines that had called for suspending domestic flights for a day.
About 48 hours after threatening a strike, the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) ate crow on Sunday to say that all private airlines would operate as scheduled on August 18.

A statement issued late in the evening by a GoAir spokesperson on behalf of FIA said it decided to “put on hold its decision to suspend flights on August 18…in view of the agitated public sentiment, the potential inconvenience to passengers, and the government’s willingness to enter into dialogue”.

The government has never shown an unwillingness to sit across the table to thrash out the issues: reduction in airport charges and sales tax on ATF. “The FIA hopes that constructive dialogue with government will lead to redressal of problems,” the statement said.

The first signs of the possibility of the strike falling through came on Saturday evening when a low-cost airline, IndiGo, pulled out of the protest saying it would continue with its operations on August 18. At 7.30pm on Sunday, Spice Jet followed suit. By 8pm, FIA announced that the rest of the airlines  Kingfisher, Jet, Spice and Go Air  too had deferred their decision to suspend flights on August 18.

Although FIA had to call off its decision without any assurance from the government, it did succeed in taking the issues plaguing the airline industry to the public. The strike threat got ample media focus which made it possible for FIA to bring fresh focus to protracted issues like airport charges and sales tax on ATF.

“From day one, it was apparent that low-cost airlines (LCC) would pull out of this as they are not in such dire financial straits as full-fare carriers are,” said an aviation analyst. The first signs of retreat came barely 24 hours after FIA made the adrenaline-charged announcement on Friday last. All private airlines continued to accept bookings for August 18; but the government took no chances.

On Saturday, civil aviation minister Praful Patel warned the airlines against holding the country to ransom even as Air India chalked out plans to mount additional flights on its B-747 jumbos on August 18 and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) cracked the whip warning airlines not to flout the provisions of the permit that allows them to operate scheduled flights. And sure enough, IndiGo announced it was no longer part of the FIA strike.