NEW DELHI, India – The threat of mass pilot sackings and a partial lockout now loom large over the erstwhile Indian Airlines. The airline had asked the 850 striking pilots to resume work by 5pm on Friday — day three of the strike that saw only 39 of the 320 daily flights getting operated and over 16,000 passengers stranded across the country. Pilots say not one of them — either the 650 members of the striking Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA) or the 200 management pilots supporting their stir — resumed working.
Air India immediately obtained the Directorate-General of Civil Avation’s nod to allow Kingfisher pilots to fly its Airbus A-320 planes that are used by both airlines. While the national carrier is seeking 25 to 26 pilots, a Kingfisher spokesperson categorically denied any such move.
The other option, apart from a seemingly imminent crackdown on pilots and a lockout, is invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act. Two more pilots were fired on Friday, taking the toll up to nine apart from six suspensions so far.
The threat of arrest became pronounced with the Delhi High Court threatening to initiate contempt proceedings against striking pilots. The court had on the very first day of strike asked them to resume work in public interest. The court also rejected ICPA’s plea to overturn its AI’s derecognition by the management.
But the pilots are firm on continuing the strike till their main demand of CMD Arvind Jadhav’s removal and investigation into reasons of AI’s financial mess is met. “The CMD has to go. We are ready for arrests. All 31,000 employees will go for arrests,” ICPA general secretary Rishabh Kapoor said.
Once the 5pm deadline for pilots to resume work elapsed, there were uncomfirmed reports doing the rounds that 80 to 100 pilots could be fired. The airline which has lost an additional Rs 26.5 crore in the past three days due to the strike, however, said: “So far nine pilots have been sacked and six suspended. We have sought reports from departmental heads to know how many are on strike and how many will report to work. This figure will be known by Saturday,” said an official. AI has sent a list of striking pilots to the court for contempt proceedings.
This stalemate is likely to continue at least till Monday, when the government could go in for a partial lockout — the third in IA’s history — and the court will ask the striking pilot leaders as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated.
What would be of specific interest is whether AI’s plan to let Kingfisher pilots fly their planes would take off. The DGCA has given a conditional nod to this proposal, which among other thing entails a two-day training for Kingfisehr pilots. Both Kingfisher and AI (domestic) have Airbus A-320 family planes but with different engines. So training would be required for them to use AI planes. “It will not be easy for some other airline staff to fly AI’s equipment. There is massive resentment to this plan and the strike may actually grow,” said sources.