Pilot strike leaves thousands stranded
Government-run Air India forced to cancel 48 flights and suspend bookings for many international flights, including US.
Thousands of people have been stranded at airports as pilots of India’s national carrier, continued their strike for the third day, leading to cancellations of many flights.
Air India, which normally flies 400 flights daily, including 50 on international routes, suspended on Thursday passenger bookings for flights to the US, Europe and Canada because of the strike.
“We are suspending booking of tickets for west-bound flights till May 15,” K Swaminathan, Air India spokesman, told AFP news agency.
“There is no use of taking bookings if flights may not operate.”
About 250 pilots from Air India are on strike, forcing the cancellation of 48 flights, NDTV, a local TV station reported.
The pilots have ruled out halting their protest even as a court in Delhi said the strike was illegal and ordered them back to work.
“We have tried speaking to the [aviation] ministry but they have not responded,” Captain Tauseef Mukadam, pilots’ union spokesman, told AFP.
India’s aviation minister has remained firm and refused to bow to pilots’ demands.
The airline, with 1,500 pilots on its payroll, has sacked 45 of the hundreds of striking pilots saying “their actions were illegal”.
The strike comes at a time when Air India is facing mounting problems due to rising fuel prices, competition from low-cost rivals and a record of labour disputes.
The airline has been losing nearly $2m a day, as it struggles with the legacy of a poorly executed 2007 merger, debt costs and a swollen staff.
The pilots are protesting unpaid salaries and what they say are a lack of opportunities.
They are protesting against a decision to train former Indian Airlines pilots, who moved to Air India when the two firms merged in 2007, to fly new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Airline management has decided that pilots from both carriers will undergo training on the new Boeing Dreamliner aircraft.
But Air India pilots have objected to this, saying it would hinder their career prospects. The first of four long-haul Dreamliner aircraft are expected to be delivered to Air India by June.
Meanwhile, pilots of Kingfisher airline have also started calling in sick over unpaid salaries.
The cash-strapped airline, owned by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, has been struggling to stay afloat despite massive debt.