New Delhi: Taking a tough stand, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh today asked the striking Air India pilots to apologise to passengers, start the flights and then come to the government for talks.
“The first priority must be to make sure that the passengers feel they are being listened to. So let the pilots decide that. Ask for forgiveness from passengers. Start the flights … we can talk on anything after that,” Singh said.
The Air India pilots today continued their agitation for the fifth consecutive day, forcing the management to cancel 14 flights and re-scheduling many others, even as the protesting aviators also approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his intervention.
The carrier’s low-cost subsidiary, Air India Express, also cancelled six flights.
He reminded the pilots that Air India was almost bankrupt and public money was being pumped to revive the national carrier. “Our plan is to make Air India viable, revive Air India, make it profitable. That is why we are giving public money to Air India,” Singh said.
The minister said the process of revival was bound to see many problems and asked the airline employees to be patient. “They should firmly say their views but not inconvenience the passengers and make Air India lose credibility. Don’t cause monetary loss to Air India. The airline is almost bankrupt,” he said.
Singh said the government was mulling taking some aircraft on wet lease, as in such cases the planes come with a crew. The Minister said that the government was also in touch with some retired pilots besides rationalising the flights operated by Air India.
The Minister is meeting two of his Opposition predecessors, Shahnawaz Hussain and Rajiv Pratap Rudy, to find a way to resolve the crisis in the ailing national carrier.
At a press conference in Mumbai, IPG President Jeetendra Awhad and senior leader Tauseef Muqaddam said “the ball is in the government’s court” and blamed the airline management for not giving a clear picture to the government. A group of senior pilots also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and AI CMD Rohit Nandan supporting the pilots’ demands and demanding that these “genuine” issues
should be looked into.
Taking a tough stand, the Air India management had yesterday sacked 25 pilots. With this, the total number of pilots whose services have been terminated has gone upto 71. Air India management has also written to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) asking it to cancel the licenses of 11 IPG office-bearers whose services have been terminated.
The statements from the Minister and the IPG came a day after the Supreme Court asked the airline to resolve the issues by calling for negotiations. The pilots’ union had yesterday sought time for talks with the Civil Aviation Minister.