Crisis-hit Air India on Thursday stopped bookings for the US, Canada and Europe-bound flights till May 15 as it sacked nine more pilots on day three of their agitation which led to cancellation of over 20 flights and left hundreds of passengers fuming.
With over 200 pilots owing allegiance to the Indian Pilots Guild refusing to join duty, Air India said it was suspending its international bookings rpt bookings to New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Toronto, London, Paris and Frankfurt. Some other foreign destinations are also likely to be affected.
Air India sacked nine more pilots taking the number of pilots whose services have been terminated to 45. While 10 pilots, mostly office bearers of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), were dismissed on Tuesday, another 26 were shown the door yesterday. AI management has also derecognised IPG.
Showing no signs of relenting, the IPG asserted that the AI management must withdraw the sack orders and till then there was no question of resuming work.
The agitating pilots sought the intervention of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to resolve the impasse.
"It is a matter of life and death and career for the pilots. Talks were held by IPG with AI management which did not honour its commitments. The management is having a non-serious attitude towards our grievances,'" Jitendra Awhad, IPG president, told reporters.
Over 20 Air India flights were cancelled today from Delhi and Mumbai. From Delhi flights to Frankfurt, Shanghai, Toronto, New Jersey, Chicago and Seoul were cancelled while Air India flights to New York, Riyadh and Shanghai were not operating from Mumbai.
Air India daily operates about 50 international flights and 400 domestic flights.
Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh said, "if they (pilots) are not willing to follow the court order, why would they listen to me. They have to decide to follow the high court order. That's the law but they are not willing to do so. What can we do."
Singh, however, reaffirmed government's readiness to hold talks with the pilots and hoped that they would abide by the high court order which held their stir as illegal.
"High Court has given a very clear order. Let us hope that pilots follow the High Court judgement. Every thing is negotiable but they must reach out to us first," Singh said.
Holding that interest of the airline and passengers was of paramount interest, the Minister said, "They must make sure that Air India does not lose credibility."
The Delhi high court had on Wednesday held the strike as illegal and barred the pilots from resorting to sick leave and staging demonstrations.
The pilots protesting against rescheduling of Boeing 787 Dreamliner training and matters relating to their career progression have remained defiant.
"Three international departures from Mumbai and 8 from Delhi have been cancelled due to non-availability of pilots", an Air India official said.
Around 12 international arrivals at Delhi airport were also cancelled, according to the website of Delhi airport.
Passengers were inconvenienced as airline officials were unable to accommodate them in others flights or give any concrete information on when their flights will take off.
Around 200 pilots owing allegiance to IPG had reported sick on Tuesday resulting in cancellation of several flights.
The IPG has a strength of about 250 pilots while the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) has over 1,200 membership out of a total of 1,600 pilots. The remaining are mostly executive pilots.
Asked whether the government planned to close down Air India, the minister said, "Closing down is not a solution. Air India has a large base in international travel."
"Now that the (Delhi high) court has also asked them to join, they should do so," he said, adding passengers must not be inconvenienced.