With the standoff between protesting pilots and the Air India management showing no signs of easing, the government on Tuesday asked other airlines not to increase fares to exploit the situation and to accommodate passengers whose flights had been cancelled.
"I have asked them not to hike fares at this time, and also to accommodate those passengers whose flights were cancelled," Civil Aviation Secretary N.M. Nambiar told reporters in New Delhi after meeting representatives of various airlines, including Air India chairman Arvind Jadhav.
The agitation by a section of Air India pilots to protest the cut in their productivity linked incentives (PLI) entered the fourth day Tuesday, forcing the cancellation of 46 flights, including a few international flights.
After the meeting, Jadhav told reporters that the cash-strapped national carrier lost over Rs.84 crore in the last three days of the strike.
At least 180 pilots have reported sick in the past three days. The airline has increased the PLI paid to its employees from Rs.1,000 crore to Rs.1,500 crore in the past two years, Jadhav said.
"We have deputed additional staff including senior officials of the ranks of general managers across various airports to ensure the passengers are shifted to other airlines' flights," he said, adding: "We have also opened special cash counters for refunding tickets."
The airline has also suspended booking tickets for the next 15 days.
Talks between the senior executive pilots and Jadhav had ended inconclusively Monday.
An Air India official said the management was open to further talks and was likely to meet the pilots again Tuesday.
In a statement Monday night, Civil Aviation Secretary Nambiar denied any possibility of a lockout in Air India.
He urged the agitating pilots not to disrupt flights as it was causing immense problem to the travelling public and bringing them discomfort.
"This must end immediately in the interest of the public. This will also stand the airline in good stead for further government support."
Nambiar added that the airline management had not taken any decision on a PLI cut or any allowance of the unionised section of the employees.
"The decision regarding the executive employees will be taken only after they are linked to a proper turnaround plan including cost cutting and revenue enhancement. We advise the management to enter into a comprehensive dialogue with all section of the employees," he said.
The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) Monday urged the civil aviation ministry to ensure speedy resolution of the crisis in the cash-strapped national carrier.
V.K. Bhalla, who represents the senior executive pilots of Air India, said the strike had been "thrust upon the pilots". He charged Jadhav with "trying to sabotage the airline" since May.
The Air India agitation began last week after the management's decision to slash the PLI of employees by 25-50 percent as part of cost-cutting measures. The airline's current debt is about Rs.16,500 crore and its losses stood at Rs.7,200 crore in fiscal 2008-09 that ended March 31.