Air India (AI) is facing the possibility of a partial or complete shutdown. On Thursday, pilots holding management posts joined the striking pilots that belong to the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA).
Over 50% of the airline’s flights were cancelled and scores delayed or combined with others, inconveniencing an estimated 10,000 passengers.
AI, incurring a daily loss of Rs 4 crore as a result of the strike, runs 320 flights every day. From Thursday, it reduced operations by 18%, ie, 45 flights.
International operations, too, took a hit with 200 pilots holding managerial positions joining the strike, 69 reporting sick and the situation likely to get worse on Friday when some of the pilots who operated flights over the last two days going on their mandatory rest period.
Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi said: “Let us see [about the lockout]. I hope better sense prevails.” On Wednesday, he had said firm “no” when asked about the possibility of a shutdown.
ICPA, comprising pilots of the erstwhile Indian Airlines, is demanding wage parity with AI pilots. Seven pilots have been sacked and four suspended in the last two days. “They are Class 12 pass outs, not even graduates, and their starting salary is Rs 3.8 lakh. There has to be a limit to their demands,” Ravi said.
The daily cash inflow for the airline is Rs 36 crore while the outgo is Rs 57 crore. Of this, the expenditure on oil is Rs 18.5 crore. A section in the government feels that the losses would reduce if there was a lockout.
A co-pilot of the erstwhile Indian Airlines earns Rs 2.25 to Rs 3.25 lakh per month while that of AI earns Rs 6.5 lakh. An Indian Airlines commander gets Rs 4 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, while those in AI get Rs 8 lakh. AI pays Rs 3,000 crore annually as salaries, Rs 800 crore going to pilots.
Meanwhile, talks between pilots and the management failed. The Delhi High Court reprimanded the pilots for defying its order to call off the strike and issued notices to the union’s office-bearers asking why contempt of court proceedings should not be initiated against them.