A wildcat strike by over 300 pilots on Tuesday crippled Jet Airways operations forcing the airline to cancel over 150 flights across the country even as Government explored the possibility of invoking ESMA to restore the services.
Mumbai was the worst hit by the cancellation of about 120 flights by Jet Airways and its subsidiary JetLite followed by Delhi where at least 10 flights of the airlines were cancelled. Flight operations were also hit in Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kochi.
A large number of passengers who were booked on Jet were accommodated in flights of Air India and other carriers. The carrier termed the failure of the pilots to return to work as an attempt to "sabotage the operations".
While Jet Chairman Naresh Goyal met Civil Aviation Secretary M Madhavan Nambiar and briefed him on the situation, Home Secretary G K Pillai wrote to chief secretaries of all states to review the situation with regard to the private airline's pilots reporting sick en masse.
"The State Chief Secretaries have been asked, in consultation with their respective Home Secretaries and Labour Secretaries, to see whether there is a necessity to invoke the provisions of the ESMA to ensure restoration of services so that general public is not put to inconvenience," an official spokesperson said.
According to National Aviators Guild (NAG), the pilots union of the Jet Airways, at least 145 Captains and 154 co-pilots reported sick on Tuesday morning. As many as four international flights of the airline were cancelled, they said.
To meet the situation, the airline sent doctors to the homes of some of the pilots and co-pilots in different cities
who reported sick even as it sought intervention of Directorate General of Civil Aviation to resolve the crisis.
Taking note of the serious situation, the Home Secretary is understood to have decided to act on the basis of
the laid down guidelines, called Civil Aviation Requirements (CARs), to deal with the agitation which has been called to
protest the sacking of two senior pilots.
The relevant CARs, the spokesperson said, noted that any act on the part of pilots which could lead to last minute
cancellation of flights and harassment of passengers "would be treated as an act against public interest".
Jet Airways in a press statement said that a section of the pilots have resorted to a "simulated strike by
"This organised activity is a planned sabotage of operations that will damage the airline's operations and will casue
inconvenience to the travelling public," it said.
While the NAG had on Monday decided to call off its proposed strike against the management's sacking of two senior
pilots --Capt Sam Thomas and Capt Balaraman, its members decided an alternate course to protest action like going on
mass casual leave.
The union had termed the sackings "an act of vendetta" and demanded the reinstatement of the pilots.
The airways had last month terminated their services after they along with others formed a trade union body in the
NAG President Girish Kaushik said that the matter was entirely in the hands of the management and that the Union
only wanted the two pilots to be reinstated.
At the meeting between Jet chief Goyal and Civil Aviation Secretary Nambiar, the ministry asked the premier private carrier to set up Control Offices at their headquarters, bases, offices and airports.
The airline has also been asked to take steps to put in place a full refund mechanism "without any deduction" and ensure full facilitation of passengers and take care of their amenities to minimise their inconvenience.
The airline was also asked to ensure that their passengers were accommodated in other airlines depending on availability of seats.
Meanwhile, Air India said it was in touch with Jet Airways to accommodate the stranded passengers.
The national carrier has also offered to operate special flights for this purpose if required and kept aircraft and crew on standby.
AI has put its officials on duty at various airports across the country to offer a helping hand to Jet passengers of both domestic and international services.
Subsequent to its serving a strike notice on the management, the issue was referred to the Regional Labour Commissioner.
A conciliatory meeting was called on August 31 between both the management and the union which claims a representation of over 650 of the over 1,000 pilots in Jet Airways.
Referring to the directions of the Labour Commissioner, the statement said, "Jet Airways has been in a conciliation process with the pilots. The Regional Labour Commissioner had categorically stated that any strike by the pilots during this pendency of conciliation, would be deemed an illegal act.