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May 10, 2012

Kingfisher pilots go on strike; Air India cancels long haul international flights

     New Delhi: Delhi-based pilots of private carrier Kingfisher Airlines have reportedly refused to fly over alleged non-payment of outstanding dues, and it is expected that the airline's pilots based in Mumbai will join the protest later this evening. The Kingfisher pilots agitation comes even as national carrier Air India announced that it would be cancelling long distance international flights, and even some domestic flights. Airport authorities in Delhi and Mumbai have warned that if the pilots opt to stay away from their flight duties for an extended period, Kingfisher flight schedules could be severely affected, and passengers inconvenienced. "From the Mumbai airport only a flight, the morning one to Chennai, was cancelled and it was for operational reasons," said a Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd spokesperson. Kingfisher is now the smallest airline in Indian in terms of market share and number of flights operated/day. Kingfisher pilots have been calling in sick, as they believes the airline management is reneging on its promise to pay pending salaries. "The management has been blatantly lying to us. They told us that they have deposited the money for our salaries in the bank," one pilot was quoted, as saying. "However, when we checked with the banks, they revealed that not a cent has been deposited towards our salary payments," he added. The pilots had earlier planned to agitate from Monday onwards. But the airline chairman Vijay Mallya wrote a letter saying that the salary for the month of January will be paid on May 9. With the deadline gone and no payment done, the agitation began from midnight. Over twenty Air India flights were cancelled Thursday from Delhi and Mumbai as the pilots strike entered its third day. Despite the Delhi High Court declaring the pilot stir illegal, they remained defiant and said the agitation would continue till their demands were met. According to the Delhi airport web site, around 12 international arrivals were cancelled. From Delhi , flights departing for Frankfurt, Shanghai , Toronto, New Jersey, Chicago and Seoul were cancelled, while Air India flights to New York, Riyadh and Shanghai did not take off from Mumbai. The Air India management has so far sacked 36 more pilots. It had earlier argued before the court that inter-union rivalry between Air India and the Indian Airlines was the reason for the strike. According to the management, there were two aircrafts at the centre of the controversy - the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Boeing 777 - and who should be trained on them. The unions were not in agreement whether pilots from Air India or Indian Airlines should be trained on the two aircraft. A decision was taken that the training on the Dreamliner would be in the ratio 1:1 and that had already begun. Aggrieved by this decision, the Indian Pilots Guild moved the High Court and the Indian Commercial Pilots Association moved the Supreme Court. On April 23, the Supreme Court said that the training in the 1:1 ratio would continue. Despite this order, the Indian Pilots Guild went on strike as a pressure tactic against the training parity. Union Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh has warned that the government might consider downsizing the national carrier if the agitation by the pilots continued. "Government has given them Rs.30,000 crore of public money but that is not without strings. They have to prove their worth. Let me point out the example of Kingfisher. They downsized and since then they are doing fine. Air India only has 17 per cent market share. The pilots must look at this also," Singh said.
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