Air India lifted on Friday a ban on Shiv Sena lawmaker Ravindra Gaikwad but a section of national carrier’s pilots refused to fly him unless he apologised for allegedly assaulting a senior cabin crew on board a flight last month.
Gaikwad expressed regret for the incident but did not apologise in a letter to civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju on Thursday.
Raju wrote to Air India on Friday asking it to lift the travel restrictions on the controversial parliamentarian, who admitted on TV that he hit the Air India employee with slippers 25 times.
It was not clear if five other airlines which had imposed a similar ban on Gaikwad too would also lift the restrictions.
Air India spokesperson GP Rao said the civil aviation ministry “directed us to lift the ban in view of the apology tendered by Gaikwad” to Raju.
“Air India, however, remains committed to ensure that its employees are not assaulted and neither misbehaved with by any passenger and would always take strong action to preserve the dignity of its employees at all times,” Rao said.
But the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA), one of the unions of Air India pilots, refused to budge.
“Our demand was that he should tender an unconditional apology. We have to see whether he has apologised to ministry or to the person he slapped. We want him to apologise to our staff and till then we will not withdraw our letter,” said Praveen Keerthi, general secretary of the association, referring to its written complaint to the civial aviation minister.
“ICPA strongly condemns his (Gaikwad’s) misconduct and demand an unconditional apology for the same, failing which we will be constrained to direct our members not to operate any flight which has Mr Gaikwad on board,” ICPA said in the letter.
The Centre moved in to defuse the crisis after Sena MPs paralysed Parliament on Thursday and threatened to stop all flights out of its stronghold Mumbai.
The Sena, an ally of the ruling BJP at the Centre and Maharashtra, also threatened to skip a meeting of the NDA next week.
Gaikwad, an MP from Osmanabad, said in his letter to Raju that the “incident may kindly not be seen as a reason for likely recurrence of such an event in future also”.
He also said an ongoing probe will “bring out the factual sequence of events to fix responsibility” in the incident, which triggered a wave of revulsion and anger against the MP.
The Air India Cabin Crew Association also said that Gaikwad should not be allowed to fly until he tenders an “unconditional apology”.
“Ravindra Gaikwad is and will continue to be a risk to flight safety and flight operations and to cabin crew safety on board, and hence government must think long and hard about letting him back on,” the association said in a letter to AI chairman and managing director Ashwani Lohani.
It would be a “crying shame” if he is let off “without even a rap on the knuckles”, it added.
Since the incident on March 23, the national carrier had blocked seven attempts by Gaikwad to book tickets by changing the spelling of surname and using different prefixes such as Prof.