With no end in sight to the strike by a section of Air India pilots which entered the 16th day today, the airline management has extended its contingency plan of curtailed operations to June 1. The earlier deadline for the contingency plan to end was May 25.
The national carrier also said it is planning a feasibility study to determine the international destinations the airline will fly to as it faces a shortage of pilots and is planning to close down loss-making flights. The bookings are being accepted only for those flights which are being operated under the contingency plan.
“We are going to conduct a route feasibility study by which we will see which routes we can operate to in the new scheme of things. We will take into account the economics, load factors and importance of the destination,” said a senior official with the flag carrier.
“The earlier contingency plan was supposed to have ended on Friday (May 25), but it now seems that the stir is going to run longer as pilots have not yet returned to duty even after the courts ruled the strike illegal,” said the official. However, the official said, the 15-day old pilots stir has given the airline to close some of the loss-making routes temporarily.
Under the current contingency plan for international operations, the airline is operating a bare minimum number of operations by clubbing flights to destinations in Europe and the US.
Striking pilots have already crippled operations for 15 continuous days, costing the debt-laden airline about 250 crore of losses so far.
An ET report says the airline is managing to operate 50 percent of its international operations and too with fewer staff. Mass sacking or a partial shutdown of operations for a while cannot be ruled out too, the report said, citing a senior civil aviation ministry official.
“The loss due to ticket cancellations, unused labour and with the bulk of our Boeing-777 fleet grounded now stands at Rs.250 crore. Our losses per day have come down from Rs.13-15 crore to Rs.10-11 crore due to the contingency plan,” the official said.
The official said the agitating pilots, who are on a mass sick leave, had been asked to undergo medical check-up by a board of doctors from the Indian Air Force immediately.
“They (pilots) will be checked by Indian Air Force doctors. If they clear it and are actually sick, then it is valid, but if they fail the test and come out to be absolutely fine, then they can either join back or resign,” the official said.
Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told the Rajya Sabha that striking pilots were not listening to his appeals to withdraw their agitation despite the assurance that they won’t be victimised.
“I committed in the house that no victimisation would be done. But pilots are not listening. That is where the situation stands today,” he told the members who have expressed concern over the issue.
The airline has so far sacked 101 pilots.
Meanwhile, to mitigate losses and to win back passenger trust, the airline has started a special scheme whereby passengers can advance, postpone or cancel their tickets without any extra charges till May 22.
The airline has deployed the Airbus family of aircraft such as A320, A321 and A330 for international routes.
It is operating only eight of its 17 Boeing-777 aircraft which are normally manned by the pilots belonging to Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), who are now on strike.
Trouble started for the airline May 8 when pilot-members of the IPG took mass sick leave, protesting the management move to provide Boeing-787 Dreamliner training to pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines.
The pilots have made four demands which include exclusive flying rights on Boeing 787 aircraft, payment of arrears from 2007 onwards, travel on first class when not working, and the right to be promoted as commanders within six years.