The stand-off between the pilots and the management of Jet Airways persisted for the second day on Wednesday, resulting in cancellations of 169 flights that forced an estimated 14,000 passengers to cancel their trips or shift to other airlines.The airline said 432 pilots had reported sick Wednesday in violation of the Bombay High Court order a day earlier, restraining them from resorting to any form of strike in the country's largest private carrier.
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Amid this drama and chaos at airports across the country, Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal met Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel here and also held parleys with a section of the pilots to resolve the impasse -- but with little success till evening.
Both Patel and Goyal declined to respond to queries from waiting reporters on the outcome of their meeting, even as the Directorate General of Civil Aviation sought to bring the two sides to the table for discussions to end the stand-off.
The pilots are demanding the reinstatement of two of their colleagues, who were sacked last month, which they say was done mainly because of their role in the formation of a separate union.
They also want their newly formed union, the National Aviators Guild, to be recognised by the Jet Airways management.
"We just want our voice back in the company. We want back our colleagues who were sacked," said guild president Girish Kaushik. "The problems faced by the passengers is certainly not due to us," he added.
Kaushik also claimed that the cabin crew of the airline had agreed to join the stir even as some national-level trade unions, including those affiliated with Left parties, extended their support to the guild.
But it was evident as the day progressed that Jet Airways management was not willing to buckle under the pressure being exerted by the pilots, particularly in light of the order passed by the Bombay High Court late Tuesday.
"They are behaving like terrorists. They cannot hold the country, the passengers and the airline hostage," Goyal told reporters here before his meeting with the officials of the aviation ministry and Patel.
"We won't tolerate such blackmail. The livelihood of more than 30,000 employees of Jet Airways is at stake. I am open to meeting and talking to the pilots. I will be more than happy. But they cannot harass the passengers," Goyal said.
Unlike the day before when the bulk of the passengers booked on Jet Airways were left virtually stranded at the airports, Wednesday saw many of them accommodated on its low-cost arm JetLite and the state-run Air India.
"We have accommodated 80 percent of the passengers on other carriers. For the balance, the entire fare has been refunded," chief operating officer of Jet Airways Hamid Ali told reporters in Mumbai.
Goyal said apart from causing hardship to passengers, the agitation was resulting in major losses for the airline, which is already facing hardship because of the downturn, as the carrier was also losing out because of the inconvenience caused to passengers.
"We had bookings from over 14,000 domestic passengers and 9,500 international passengers," Goyal said, seeking to project the carrier's losses in terms of how many guests the airline was unable to fly.
The government also tried to do its bit when it asked all states to review the situation with regard to what it called a "wildcat strike" and invoke provisions of their respective Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA).