AI mounts efforts to initiate talks with agitators

New Delhi: Air India`s domestic operations remained crippled on Wednesday with the pilots continuing their strike for the eighth day, as informal efforts were mounted to initiate talks with the agitators.

The pilots, however, said they were yet to get any formal intimation about the talks, though Air India management claimed they were ready to hold discussions soon to resolve the crisis.

It is learnt that some "feelers" have been sent to the pilots since last night and the agitators have responded positively.

Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi had a meeting with Air India CMD Arvind Jadhav, Civil Aviation Secretary Nasim Zaidi and top officials to review the situation arising out of the strike.

"We are certain that the situation can be resolved by dialogue. We are only waiting for Government to come forward to talk to us as we can come to a consensus. ICPA has written to the Prime Minister again to intervene in this matter and we are hopeful that he will call us soon," an Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) leader told PTI.

The ailing national airline operated 15 per cent or about 40 of its 320 scheduled daily domestic flights, including 10 each from Mumbai and Delhi.

Air India, which has sacked seven pilots and suspended six others, is suffering an estimated operational loss of Rs 26 crore per day on account of the stir. The management has also decided not to process the April salaries of the agitators till further instructions.

Delhi High Court yesterday slapped contempt notices on nine office bearers of the de-recognised ICPA for disobeying its order to call off the strike. It would take up the matter again on May 25.

The ICPA, which claims a membership of over 800, has received support from many unions including that of their colleagues from the erstwhile Air India, Indian Pilots Guild (IPG). Besides pay parity with them, ICPA is seeking CBI probe into alleged mismanagement and corruption in the withdrawal of flights from profitable routes and aircraft purchases.

Both IPG and Jet Airways` pilots` body, Society for Welfare of Indian Pilots (SWIP), have written letters to the government to take earnest step to find a solution.

In its letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, IPG has sought his intervention to break the deadlock by restoring the recognition of ICPA, reinstating those sacked and suspended and "impress upon the AI management to enter into a dialogue with the striking pilots" for an amicable solution.

In a letter to Ravi, SWIP also made the same demands and urged the Minister to set in motion the process of "meaningful negotiations".

Keeping open the window for talks, Ravi yesterday said "Government is willing to settle the issue. … I hope wisdom will prevail on the pilots".