New Delhi: Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh has called the Air India pilots' strike 'inappropriate' and 'illegal' as around 100 pilots called in sick. "A strike needs a notice in advance. The Air India pilots have called in sick. Such kind of a strike is illegal," Singh said.
Singh said the pilots should have some patience and should discuss their grievances with the management and try to find out a solution. "This is not appropriate. Every section has grievances, they should have some patience." He also said that it was not right for the passengers to suffer because of the strike.
A section of Air India pilots refused to turn up for work citing health concerns. The timing is crucial as it came right after talks with the airline management broke down. Nearly 100 pilots in Delhi and Mumbai, who are associated with the Indian Pilots Guild, failed to report to work on Monday night and the number is expected to go up to 250 on Tuesday.
Four international flights were cancelled so far on Tuesday. These include flights from Delhi to Chicago, from Mumbai to New Jersey, from Delhi to Toronto and from Delhi to Hong Kong.
IPG President Jitendra Awhad said, "The management is not taking this situation seriously and that is why this has happened. We are open to discussions, at least some of our demands should be met. That's why we've asked the Aviation Minister to step in immediately." He also said that the pilots' strike was not indefinite.
Earlier, the management held meeting with the pilots in New Delhi in its bid to defuse the crisis, arising out of the rescheduling of the dreamliners training programme.
"The management (Air India) completely backtracked from what had been agreed upon in the last 2-3 days. Therefore, we are left with no option but to intensify our agitation," sources said on Monday.
On Saturday, a section of pilots reported sick, apparently to protest the move, resulting in the cancellation of one international flight and delaying another two by almost 16 hours.
It is understood that during their meeting on Monday, the airline management told the pilots that they had no reasons to strike work at a time when the government had announced a bailout package for the national carriers.
The management is also said to have told the pilots to wait for a solution till the Justice DM Dharamadhikari Committee report is implemented by the government.
"No time is good for agitation. But at times things come to such a passe when agitation is the last resort to get the pending issues resolved," the Guild sources said.
The IPG sources said that some sort of understanding had been reached during their meeting with ED (HR) and ED (Operations) over the last 3-4 days. "But the CMD totally backtracked at today's meeting."
The IPG pilots, who belong to the pre-merger Air India, are protesting the management's decision to train their colleagues from the erstwhile Indian Airlines on flying the long-haul Dreamliner plane, the first of which is expected to arrive later this month.
The former Indian Airlines pilots, represented by the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), had moved court earlier protesting that the airline was only sending the erstwhile Air India cockpit crew for training on the B-787s.
The Supreme Court had ruled that that the management would deploy an equal number of pilots from both erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India.
The Guild says it is not opposed to equal representation but wants a solution to the numerous problems which will arise out of the issue including IPG pilots carrier progression prospects.
Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court will take up further hearing on a petition filed by the ICPA on Boeing 777 training schedule.
(With additional information from PTI)