Day 14: Ajit Singh to meet union leaders as rivalry slowly kills AI

With the agitation by over 200 Air India pilots entering its 14th day, Union Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh will meet the leaders of 13 recognised Air India unions today with an aim to resolve the crisis plaguing the national carrier today.

Singh has time and again repeated that the merger of Indian Airlines and Air India was one of the main reasons of the crisis. He reiterated in an interview with Mint that the government will not hesitate to reduce Air India's international flights if the strike continued too long. On the root cause for the strike, he said "There are several human resources issues unresolved among the pilots of both the sides. There are differences in their salary structures, perks and even promotion schedules. The differences are not just with the pilots; the case is similar for the engineers of both entities."

Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh

Singh has appealed to the leaders that they should consider the health of their organisation before deciding to carry on with the strike. He said, "It is more for familiarisation to get to know them. Unions have a very important role to play not only about their demands but they should also look at the whole picture and health of their organisation".

However, the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), which has been derecognised by Air India, has not been invited for the meeting. It will be attended by representatives of the Indian Commercial Pilots association, cabin crew, ground handlers and other employees. The minister's earlier appeal to striking pilots of the IPG to return to work has gone unheeded. The protesters want sack orders against 71 pilots to be withdrawn and issues relating to career progression addressed immediately.

"Government has given money to Air India and fixed a lot of check points and performance standards. They will have to understand what life is about in an era of competition,"Singh said on being asked whether any solution is being worked out to end the deadlock.

The national carrier operated a curtailed international schedule, flying seven West-bound flights instead of normal schedule of 16 daily flights, Air India sources said.

The Air India pilots representing the Indian Pilots' Guild (IPG) are demanding that training on these jet planes be restricted to pilots belonging to the erstwhile Air India. This rivalry between the two wings of the merged airline has not only derailed operations of the national carrier but also caused a lot of embarrassment and harm to brand 'Air India.' Moreover, once dominant with a market share of over 60 per cent, Air India market share is now down to just about 17 percent. As a Business Line report correctly said, "For an airline that is on ventilator, such insensitivity can be fatal to its existence."

Singh had appealed to the agitating pilots to return to work, saying their demands would be considered. He had also said that the ongoing strike has been declared illegal by the Delhi High Court and keeping in mind the inconvenience caused to thousands of passengers, they should resume duty. He had also assured them that the government will not be vindictive.

The airline has so far lost about Rs 200 crore due to the agitation by over 200 pilots reporting 'sick'. Indian Air Force medical facilities in various parts of the country, including Bangalore, Delhi and Jorhat, have been beefed up to conduct their full check-up by medical boards after they complete 14 consecutive days of remaining 'sick' on Monday.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 08:32 AM

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