Air India pilots unrest escalates

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Published: June 28, 2012

Air India 777-200LR. Courtesy, Boeing

A section of the Air India (AI) pilots, who have been on strike for the past 52 days, said the medical condition of one of them who has been on a hunger strike for the past four days is rapidly deteriorating.

The hundred-odd pilots belonging to the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) are protesting against the management decision to let their colleagues from the former Indian Airlines (IC) bypass them for training on the Boeing 787 (ATW Daily News, May 23).

AI management and the Ministry of Civil Aviation have been unsympathetic to the pilots’ demands, and the airline has continued operations with a curtailed schedule. Their stance has hardened in the last few weeks with plans to hire pilots from abroad.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the striking pilots warned that such a move could have disastrous consequences, such as in January 1993 when an IC Tupolev Tu-154 crashed in Delhi. Pilots blamed the crash on the airline’s decision to hire an Uzbek flight crew that had insufficient knowledge of Indian regulations relating to weather minimas required for landing.

Unmoved by the hunger strike, Indian minister for civil aviation Ajit Singh remarked that not eating might be good for the health of the pilots. The IPG statement said, “It is deeply distressing to see such insensitive remarks being made by a veteran politician as Mr. Singh.”

Meanwhile, the deputy chief labor commissioner held a round of meetings with pilots and AI management in an effort to resolve the ongoing crisis. However, management representative Vineeta Bhandari refused to meet the pilots. In a statement, IPG said pilots were willing to walk the extra mile and meet with the management anytime.

Last week, the Ministry of Civil Aviation released the Dharmadhikari committee report, outlining measures to integrate AI’s fractured workforce following its merger with IC nearly five years ago, part of an effort to resolve integration issues that have led to union unrest (ATW Daily News, June 22).

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