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Govt virtually shuts doors on agitating AI pilots

June 06
03:29 2012

NEW DELHI: Virtually shutting the doors on the striking Air India pilots, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh on Wednesday said the sacked cockpit crew could return only if they applied afresh when the ailing national carrier advertised for inducting more of them.

“As far as we are concerned, the pilot’s strike is over. If the (striking) pilots don’t accept Dharmadhikari report which is part of the airline’s turnaround plan, I don’t think there is any point in their coming back… If terminated pilots want to come back, they will have to apply afresh,” Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told reporters here.

His comments came on the 30th day of the agitation when the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) members staged silent marches in Delhi and Mumbai to press their demands relating to career progression, apart from reinstatement of their 101 sacked colleagues and restoration of recognition of their union.

Indicating that the sacked pilots could be replaced by new ones, Singh said 90 pilots were currently undergoing training and would be available for flying in August.

“We’re making sure we have enough resources – pilots and engineers to operate the new flights we have planned,” he said in reply to a spate of questions on the pilots’ strike.

“They (pilots) have decided not to come back. They have trashed the Dharmadhikari Report” which recommended several steps for integration of the staff of the two erstwhile airlines post their 2007 merger, he said.

“Our stand is that the strike is illegal. The High Court has also said it. They also did not give notice (for the strike)… They are still welcome if they want to come back, but there should be no pre-condition,” Singh said.

Maintaining that the truncated international schedule being operated during the strike had stabilized, Singh also announced that Air India would get three new Boeing 787 Dreamliners this month itself and unveiled new global operations plan, including starting of new flights.
Observing that Air India would soon advertise for taking more pilots and approach agencies to hire them, the Minister said, “It is up to them (striking pilots) whether they want to come back to work….They can always respond to the advertisements of Air India.”

Asked whether more pilots would be sacked, he said “It is up to the management to decide whether they want to extend this action to others also.” Over 200 pilots are on strike.

He also said there were “sufficient number” of pilots to fly the new B-787 Dreamliner planes.

Regarding the issue of compensation being sought by the national carrier from Boeing for delay in delivery of the B- 787s, Singh said the airline Board had moved a proposal after talking to the US manufacturer. “It will come up before the CCEA (Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs) soon.”

Asked whether the government wanted to privatize or sell off Air India now or at a later date, he said, “At present, there is no such proposal and we are not considering it.”

On AI’s new global flight plan, he said it included starting of a new flight to Kuala Lumpur, using the B-787 on Mumbai-London sector from August one and launching of Australia operations from August-September with these new planes.

“By November (when Winter Schedule begins), Air India’s international operations will be further expanded. With this, the entire original Air India network of 27 stations shall not only be fully restored, but expanded also,” he said.

Flights to Hong Kong, Osaka, Toronto and Seoul, stopped when the strike began, would be restored over the next few months. Hong Kong would be connected by a narrow-body Airbus A-319 from July and this service would be extended to Osaka and Seoul from August one, Singh said.

After its induction, the first Dreamliner would operate on domestic routes for 6-8 weeks to train pilots for take-offs and landings, before it is used to operate Mumbai-London sector in August.
Singh said Air India’s international passenger traffic, with its truncated flight schedule, had reached about 11,000 a day, around 2,000-3,000 less than normal. Its domestic traffic had reached the pre-strike level of 26,000 passengers per day, he said.

“Air India plans to sustain this and make efforts to improve it,” the Minister said as he thanked the airline staff, particularly the executive pilots, for “standing by Air India in the present crisis situation”.

He said an electronic Crew Management System (CMS) has been put in place in the national carrier to ensure optimum crew utilization replacing the manual system. While pilots have now been brought under CMS, cabin crew would also be brought under it in the next few weeks.

“We are also bringing a new and objective examination system for in-service pilots in place of the existing system in which there will also be provision of appeal by an examinee pilot,” Singh said.

On a new Air India protocol for handling of Members of Parliament, the Minister said there were “no additional costs involved. The MPs have a lot of traveling to do. So, the airline has to treat them with due respect. … I also request the management to treat all passengers with same due respect and assistance like the MPs.”

Asked whether a CBI probe would be ordered on the basis of a draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the purchase of 43 Airbus planes for erstwhile Indian Airlines, he said CAG has presented the report which has been sent to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

“The (Delhi) High Court has also said let the PAC report come,” Singh said.

To another question, he said two Airbus A-330 aircraft were grounded for technical reasons and one of them would join operations by the next week allowing the airline to add more flights. -PTI



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