As many as 1,100 Air India flights have been cancelled as nearly half of the national carrier's 1,600 pilots continued their strike for the eighth day on Wednesday, with losses touching Rs 85 crore, an official said.
"The strike has till now caused a revenue loss of around Rs 85 crore in ticket bookings. We have had to cancel some 1,100 flights in the period," a senior company official told IANS. According to the official, 221 flights were cancelled on Wednesday alone and only four flights to major metro routes were operated. Some 100-odd flights of sister concern budget carrier Alliance Air were deployed.
"The decision to operate only four flights, that too on the metro routes, was taken after a new operations plan came into effect today (Wednesday)." The airline has re-started ticket bookings for select routes till May 8. Earlier, Air India had cancelled ticket bookings on its entire national network till May 4.
"Our tickets are available till May 8 on select routes. We had stopped bookings to ensure that no backlog remains," the official said.
Air India said it has hired 18 chartered flights (16 domestic and two international) from Kingfisher Airlines and Air Arabia. "Over 12,000 Air India passengers have been transferred to other domestic and international carriers at the four metros," said a statement by the airline.
Besides, Air India was also looking for inducting more seat capacity on wet lease basis, through request for proposal (RFP) advertisements to be published Thursday.
The airline management showed willingness to restart its talks, and even reinstate the sacked pilots if they called off their agitation. But the pilots, earlier working for Indian Airlines, were unwilling to concede, unless there was immediate decision on pay parity with their counterparts in Air India.
"We are not fools to first start a strike, then get terminated and then the management comes back saying you will be reinstated, but you should drop the idea of a strike," said Captain VK Bhalla, an executive pilot who is supporting the strike.
"The main reason for the strike, to start with, had nothing to do with either our being reinstated, re-recognition of the pilots' union, or for that matter the salary for April that we have earned but has been held," he said. "It is all about pay parity and arrears. It remains that."
On Tuesday the Delhi High Court issued criminal contempt of court notices to nine office bearers of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) -- the union that has called the strike -- for ignoring a stay order on the agitation last Friday. "All the nine should remain present in the court while the criminal contempt proceedings shall be carried out May 25," said the two-member bench of justice BD Ahmed and Justice Veena Birbal.
The nine are AS Bhinder, Rishab Kapoor, Ramesh Gangadharan, Rajesh Kuyeskar, Ritesh Mathankar, Nitin Mahengade, Anup Jain, Amitesh Ahuja and Sakeel Naqvi.
The management, meanwhile, sought public support for its actions, even questioning if the stir was justified.
"Majority of them (striking pilots) draw over Rs 3.88 lakh per month and up to Rs 7 lakh per month, besides other benefits, including free passages," the state-run airline said in an advertisement released in some newspapers. "Over 10,000 esteemed passengers (are) stranded daily. Over 40,000 inconvenienced so far," said the airline, "Should financially critical Air India, on government support, succumb to such blackmail?"
The airline has also decided not to pay the striking pilots during the duration of their stir and withdraw the free flights given to them and their families, sources in the carrier said.