New Delhi: In a bid to end the stalemate, civil aviation minister Ajit Singh on Friday met striking Air India pilots for the first time and told them that there would be no victimisation if they resumed duty immediately and that their grievances would be considered.
For the first time in 18 days since the strike began, five pilots of the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG), spearheading the stir, called on Singh at the ministry’s headquarters here and held a 90-minute-long meeting with him. Air India CMD Rohit Nandan was asked to join the meeting at the fag end. “We reiterated the stand of the government that it is an illegal strike. It has caused untold miseries to passengers. Air India has lost much and therefore they should come back to work immediately,” Singh told reporters after the meeting.
Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh.
Asked whether the pilots were willing to return to work, he said, “That you have to ask them.” Singh said that he had stated in Parliament that “we won’t be vindictive. We understand their problems also. Lot of young people are there ..... They are also worried, we also realise that we want them back. But it is for them to decide.”
He said that the pilots began their agitation without serving a notice and “reported sick when they were not”.
The minister is understood to have told the pilots that the ailing airline had suffered a great deal not only in terms of financial losses but also on its image and the people’s confidence in it. Sources said Singh indicated that the process to revoke sack orders of pilots would begin as and when they resume duty. A total of 101 pilots owing allegiance to IPG have so far been sacked by the airline management.
After the meeting, IPG sources said they would be meeting this evening to take stock of the discussions five of their members had with the Minister and decide on the future course of action.
In a letter to Singh, IPG general secretary Erjahn Kapadia had sought an appointment with the minister, saying they wanted to present their case before him. However, the minister said, “Some pilots wanted to meet me. So I met them,” making it clear that the IPG was now a derecognised body. He said Air India was already implementing a contingency business plan in accordance with the situation that it is facing now in the wake of the agitation by the pilots. The strike has so far caused an estimated loss of over Rs 250 crore to Air India, which has been operating curtailed international operations. The national carrier has announced the contingency plan would remain effective till 30 June.
Under the interim schedule, Air India will operate 38 international flights per day instead of 45 that it operates under normal conditions. While most flights affected are those to Europe and North America where a curtailed operation is on, the destinations not covered under this schedule are Hong Kong, Osaka, Seoul and Toronto. All flights to the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Singapore, Thailand and SAARC countries are being operated as per normal schedule. Domestic operations of Air India are also carrying on normally and there has been no disruption on this front due to the present agitation, officials said.