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Air-India, pilots toughen stance
- Airline suspends 15 more, guild looks to court

Mumbai, April 27: Air-India continued to crack the whip on pilots who have refused to fly because of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome scare by suspending 15 more today.

This brings the number of pilots suspended to 27. Twelve members of the Indian Pilots’ Guild were suspended immediately after talks between the guild and the Air-India management failed yesterday, while 50 have been sent showcause notices.

The bone of contention is the pilots’ demand that Air-India certify cabin crew who have flown to Far East countries in the last 10 days as SARS free.

Captain Vikrant Sansare, the general secretary of the pilots’ guild, said the airline’s hardening stand and the latest round of suspensions was “expected”. Sansare said it has now become impossible for the pilots not to approach high court for justice.

Airline officials maintain that the pilots have been demanding more money and the latest strike is an excuse to put pressure on the management. But Sansare denied the charge.

Matching the pilots’ fire, an Air-India official said the management had “absolutely no intention” of backing down. “There will be no softening (of the Air-India stand) against the pilots who are just holding the nation to ransom for their vested interests,” he said.

The management had tried its best to “understand and show restraint”, said Air-India spokesman Jitendra Bhargava. “But we had to take this step after the pilots said categorically that there would be no let-up from their end.”

The strike forced the airline to cancel some flights and reschedule others, compelling hundreds of passengers in Delhi and Mumbai to re-adjust their schedules. A breakdown in the communication systems at Mumbai and Delhi airports added to the confusion.

Air-India operated two special Boeing 747 flights out of Delhi today. Special Mumbai-Delhi-Mumbai flights would be operated to connect passengers for destinations to Europe and the US.

The Mumbai-Calcutta-Bangkok-Guwahati-Calcutta-Mumbai flight was cancelled today, officials said.

Air-India has prepared a new schedule from April 27 to April 30. It has also requisitioned the services of seven retired pilots whose flying licences have not expired.

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