Govt comes out strongly against striking AI pilots

New Delhi: Government today came out strongly against striking Air India pilots saying they were continuing their agitation despite Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh saying their demands would be considered only after they joined duty "unconditionally".

"The striking Air India pilots have continued to insist on their demands even though the Minister had communicated to a group of striking pilots who called on him on May 25 that he would look into their grievances sympathetically," the Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement. Singh had then told the agitators that their demands "will be considered only after they unconditionally report back to their duty". The strong statement came after the Minister held a meeting with top officials of the Ministry and Air India to review the situation arising out of the strike that entered its 22nd day.

The pilots have so far not budged from their demands for reinstatement of 101 sacked colleagues, re-recognition of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) and deliberation on issues concerning their career progression. The official statement came in response to an IPG letter dated May 27 reiterating these demands. "The erstwhile IPG members have been insisting on their demands despite the Minister`s assurance to consider the request for their reinstatement after they report back for duty on case to case basis and without any victimisation.

"….they continue to insist on their demands despite the strike being declared illegal by Delhi High Court and also the Minister`s appeal to them and his assurance to Parliament," the statement said. It said the Minister had advised them to report back to duty to avoid any further inconvenience to passengers and damage to Air India`s image. The airline has sacked 101 pilots and is mulling hiring new pilots to restore normalcy in its flight schedules, particularly international operations which have been curtailed due to the agitation.

However, the airline is likely to reopen international bookings and firm up a fresh operating schedule by this weekend with the help of 130 executive pilots. The agitation by over 200 pilots has seen a drop in the number of its international passengers by about 3,000, besides a financial loss of over Rs 320 crore for this period. Air India is carrying out a curtailed international schedule including daily flights on long-haul sectors like Delhi-Paris-New York (JFK), Delhi-Frankfurt-Chicago, Delhi- London, Mumbai-London, Delhi-Tokyo and Delhi-Shanghai.