Air India may halt operations


National carrier Air India (AI) is likely to suspend its operations, both domestic and international, from midnight Monday till October 15.

Talks between the agitating executive pilots and the airline management failed on Monday. The airline is not taking any fresh bookings.

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A formal order to suspend flights is expected soon, a senior AI official said. “However, this should not be called a lockout,” he added.

Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh spoke to Civil Aviation minister Praful Patel, expressing concern about the situation, a civil aviation ministry official said.

“The situation is very, very worrisome,” Arvind Jadhav, Air India’s Chairman and Managing Director told Hindustan Times. Jadhav headed the management team that held discussions with the agitating pilots. “The management is ready for further negotiations,” he said.

But he was clear there would be no rollback of the cuts on incentives that had been imposed.

“Every employee will have to take a cut if we were to keep the airline afloat,” he said.

To the pilots’ charge that they had not been given their incentive pay for three months, he said: “All dues till August have been paid out and a committee has been formed to look into pilots’ genuine grievances.”

This is for the first time since 1970 that the airline is heading for a lockout.

“The airline will be have no other choice but to suspend operations because pilots are not reporting to duty. How can we operate if they do not fly the planes?” said Jadhav

Since Friday, executive pilots of the airline have been “reporting sick” seeking restoration of the cut in their flying allowance. Pilots claim that the cut in flying allowance had left them with a fourth of their salary — as little as Rs 6,000 per month in some cases.

“Our stand remains the same and the protest continues,” said executive pilot captain V K Bhalla who is leading the agitation of a section of AI’s executive pilots. “The chairman could not address any of our concerns. He only offered to set up committees for everything.”