Mumbai/New Delhi: India’s biggest airline by market value, Jet Airways (India) Ltd, crippled by 480 of its pilots calling in sick for a third day, has been called by the labour commissioner for talks to end the industrial action.
The carrier said it wouldn’t soften its position on the reinstatement of some pilots who had been fired.
“Jet Airways will continue to harden its stance when it comes to the reinstatement of four pilots. The majority of Jet Airways flights, both domestic and international, are likely to be cancelled on Friday also,” said a company official who didn’t want to be identified as he’s not authorized to speak to the media.
The carrier cancelled 205 domestic and 40 international services as the majority of its 760 Indian pilots reported sick on Thursday. Domestic passengers booked on Jet Airways flights have dropped to 11,000 from an average 23,000.
With a fleet of 84 aircraft, Jet Airways operates at least 365 flights daily. Its low-fare unit JetLite (India) Ltd, where pilots are working, operates 115 flights a day with 23 aircraft. Jet Airways shares lost 3.54% on the Bombay Stock Exchange to close at Rs253.25 on Thursday, as the benchmark Sensex gained 0.2%.
“We are accommodating 30% of domestic passengers on our own flights and the remaining in other flights,” Jet Airways chief commercial officer Sudheer Raghavan told Mint. “In the case of international passengers, we will accommodate 20% of passengers on our own flights and remaining on other foreign carriers.”
Another senior Jet Airways executive said the airline is likely to lose Rs10 crore a day due to the pilots’ strike. “The actual loss of Rs20 crore a day could come down because the airline has saved on several overheads such as fuel and other expenditure. It’s better to ground planes than fly, considering the operating cost,” he said.
The two main antagonists were camped in the Capital, seeking to gain political support. Jet’s founder chairman Naresh Goyal met labour minister Mallikarjun Kharge, while the company’s executive director Saroj K. Datta held a three-hour meeting with chief labour commissioner S.K. Mukhopadhyay.
Crisis talks: Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam (right) with Air India union leader George Abraham at a news press conference in New Delhi on Thursday. Nirupam has asked Jet to reinstate those who had been sacked. Rajkumar / Mint
Girish Kaushik, president of the National Aviators’ Guild (NAG), a newly formed pilots’ union, met key representatives of some political parties apart from the chief labour commissioner.
Congress member of Parliament Sanjay Nirupam extended his support to the pilots and asked Jet Airways to reinstate those who had been sacked. He said Goyal’s threat to shut the airline was completely unacceptable as it “was not his personal property” but owned by shareholders and was the employer of 13,000 Indians.
Kaushik said he will attend the reconciliation meeting called by the labour commissioner along with senior colleagues. NAG went on the sick leave protest demanding reinstatement of two sacked pilots Sam Thomas and D. Balaraman—who, it says, were fired for being instrumental in forming the union. Two other pilots—Venkat Vinod and Suhel Jain—were fired later.
The NAG filed a writ petition in the Madras high court against Jet Airways hiring foreign pilots, one of the issues at the centre of the row. Jet Airways employs 163 expat pilots.
“We have not asked for any raise in salaries for the last six years,” said Thomas, joint secretary of NAG. “Also, forming a union is our constitutional right.”