More than half the 320 flights that Air India runs daily were cancelled, many of the rest delayed or combined and schedules of more than an estimated 10,000 passengers were thrown off track on Thursday, as more pilots joined the strike.Staring at the possibility of a partial or complete shutdown, the airline announced that it would not take any bookings for domestic and short-haul international routes for the next five days.
A fresh round of talks between the pilots and the management, convened by the chief labour commissioner, failed on Thursday. The Delhi high court reprimanded the striking pilots for defying its order to immediately call off the agitation and issued notices to their union's office-bearers.
AI, which is losing Rs 4 crore a day as a result of the strike, reduced its operations by 18% — or a total of 45 flights — from Thursday.
International operations, too, took a hit with 200 management pilots — those who hold managerial positions — joining the strike and 69 reporting sick. It will get worse on Friday when a number of those who have been flying for the last two days will be on mandatory rest.
When asked about the chances of a lockout, civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi said on Thursday: “Let us see. I hope better sense will prevail.”
The minister, however, firmly said "no" to the same question on Wednesday. While the airline's daily cash inflow is Rs 36 crore, its outgo is Rs 57 crore. Of this, the daily fuel bill alone is Rs 18.5 crore. A section in the government is of the view that a lockout can help control the loss.
On the sacking of seven pilots and suspension of four during the last two days, Ravi said, "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."
The agitators, former Indian Airlines pilots belonging to the ICPA, are demanding pay parity with AI pilots. While a co-pilot of erstwhile IA earns between Rs 2.25 and Rs 3.25 lakh a month, an AI pilot earns Rs 6.5 lakh on average.