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Air India pilots call off strike; normal operations in 2 days

Air India pilots call off strike; normal operations in 2 days

Air India pilots call off their 10-day-old strike after Government agreed to reinstate sacked and suspended pilots and look into their demands within a time-frame.

Air India pilots on Friday night called off their 10-day-old strike that resulted in an estimated loss of over Rs 150 crore after Government agreed to reinstate sacked and suspended pilots and look into their demands within a time-frame.

Air India operations will commence from Friday night and is expected to be normalised over the next two days, an airline official said.

Over 800 pilots, belonging to the erstwhile Indian Airlines and owing allegiance to the Indian Commercial Pilots Association, as also the executive pilots, will return to work, Capt A S Bhinder, the association president told reporters after five hours of tough negotiations with the Civil Aviation ministry officials.

Expressing happiness over the pilots ending their stir, Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi said, "Their is no ill feeling and there will be no feeling of vengeance".

Asked about the demands of the pilots, he said, "interests of all sections of employees will be taken care of by the Dharmadhikari Committee. ... We have received representations from other sections of employees also and asked them to approach the Committee".

It would submit its report in about four months, he said.

The three-member Justice Dharmadhikari Committee, set up to go into all merger related HR issues facing Air India employees, has started its work and has already met a cross-section of employees to elicit their views.

Bhinder, along with ICPA general secretary Rishabh Kapur, said "we have called off the strike as the government has assured us that all the pilots sacked and suspended during the stir would be reinstated and ICPA's recognition restored".

Both the leaders, who signed the minutes of an understanding reached with the Civil Aviation Ministry, said the government also assured them that it would look into their demand for probing the "irregularities that have taken place in the airline".

A major sticking point was the pilots' demand for compensation of 75 'fixed flying hours allowance', which their erstwhile Air India colleagues get.

"All these demands would be considered by the Dharmadhikari committee", Kapur said, adding that this panel would submit its report in the next few months and government "told us that an implementation report will be filed by November this year".

An airline official said normalcy in flight operations would be restored over the "next two days" because the airline had stopped taking any bookings for over a week on most of its flights. This had led to the cancellation of about 90 per cent of its flights, with around 60 of its aircraft being grounded.

"If we don't have bookings, it is not wise to fly an empty aircraft. We will now open bookings and start rostering the pilots and other crew members. The process will take at least two days to normalise", the officials said.

The striking pilots have been demanding that all sackings, suspensions and transfers effected during the strike period be revoked, ICPA's recognition be restored, the contempt of court petition filed by Air India management be withdrawn, a CBI probe into the alleged corruption and mismanagement be ordered and all other issues be tackled in a time-bound manner.

Asked about their demand for removal of AI CMD Arvind Jadhav, Bhinder said, "our answer to this is that Government has agreed to look into all the irregularities".

The strike by over 800 pilots owing allegiance to the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) had resulted in the grounding of up to 90 per cent of the airline operations.

Air India had sacked seven pilots and suspended six and the management.

The Delhi High Court had slapped contempt notices on nine office bearers of the de-recognised ICPA for disobeying its order to call off the strike.

A Civil Aviation Ministry official said the operational loss suffered by the airline due to the strike was estimated to be over Rs 150 crore.