New Delhi: The crisis in Air India worsened on Friday with the airline management sacking 25 more pilots and writing to DGCA to cancel the licenses of 11 dismissed office bearers of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) after over 200 striking pilots refused to return to work.
"Air India is escalating the matter rather than resolving the issue," Tauseef Mukaddam, IPG spokesman told reporters, making it clear that their agitation will continue.
He said the pilots have sought time for a meeting with Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh to find an amicable solution.
In a statement tonight, Air India said it has terminated the services of 25 striking pilots "taking a serious view of the situation". With this, the total number of pilots who have been dismissed since the agitation started on Tuesday has gone up to 71.
AI has also written to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) asking it to cancel the licenses of 11 office bearers of the IPG whose services have been terminated.
On a day when 23 international and domestic flights were cancelled causing hardship to passengers, the airline said it was putting in place a sustainable contingency plan to mitigate the inconvenience caused to them.
The minister briefed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the developments and later appealed to the pilots to resume duty. Though the minister ruled out invoking the provisions of Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) on them, he said their strike was illegal.
AI also moved the Supreme Court seeking contempt action action against the agitating pilots for not heeding the direction of the Delhi High Court which had declared their strike as illegal and barred them from any protest action.
The apex court, however, refused to intervene and asked the airline to negotiate with the pilots and "sort out" their differences.
A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice T S Thakur said the pilots "have done nothing for obstruction of justice or to bring disrepute to the court. Your problem is with them. You sit with them and sort out the differences. Don't resort to contempt proceedings."
However, it said if the strike is illegal, then the airline can take action against them.
The Civil Aviation Minister said Government was open to talks with the pilots but made it clear that they must first resume duty.
Under the contingency plan, AI said its international schedule, disrupted due to the agitation, will soon be formalised and set in motion.
"To address the issue of inadequate pilots available for flying duties of wide bodied airacr, Air India is also looking at wet leasing opportunities for another four to five flights," the airline statement said.
The airline would operate seven flights to the US via Europe, out of a total of 16 using wide-body aircraft. Executive pilots would operate the flights, Commercial Director Deepak Brara said in Delhi.
Under wet lease, the lessor provides flight crew with the leased aircraft. The planes are planned to be leased for a short period, airline officials said.
AI said passengers have been moved to other airlines as far as possible. In view of the disruptions, the airline has also waived penalties on refund, cancellations, date change and rebooking for passengers booked to travel upto May 14.
Today's flights from Delhi to London, Chicago, New York, Toronto, Frankfurt, Paris, Hong Kong, Osaka, and from Mumbai to Jeddah, London and Newark were cancelled.
Ajit Singh earlier said all unions have to rise above their "personal interests".
"If they want to talk, they should come to work, and all issues can be discussed..The High Court has declared their strike as illegal," he said.
The IPG has been refusing to return to work unless the management takes back the pilots whose services have been terminated and the order derecognising IPG withdrawn.
The cash-strapped national carrier is losing revenue of Rs 10-12 crore a day due to the stir, apart from a daily incremental cost of Rs 3-5 crore, officials said.
The IPG, whose members have been reporting sick, are protesting the national carrier's move to send pilots from both Air India and erstwhile Indian Airlines in equal numbers to get trained for flying the Boeing 787 Dreamliners, the first of which is likely to be inducted later this month.
The pilots protesting against rescheduling of Boeing 787 Dreamliner training and matters relating to their career progression have showed no signs of relenting.
The IPG has a strength of about 250 pilots while the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) has over 1,200 membership out of a total of 1,600 pilots. The remaining are mostly executive pilots.
First Published: Friday, May 11, 2012, 21:06