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Planes go to one, pilots to another
- Sahara strike called off amid rumours of cockpit crew getting their way

New Delhi, Feb. 14: Naresh Goyal walked away with the planes but Vijay Mallya may get a chance to bag the pilots.

The pilots of Air Sahara, which has been bought by Jet Airways of Goyal, have called off their undeclared strike, claiming that the airline has waived a six-month mandatory notice period for quitting.

Air Sahara denied that such a deal, which would allow pilots to join voracious rival airlines without delay, has been struck.

But throughout the day the industry was rife with speculation that a group of pilots had approached Kingfisher Airlines, owned by Mallya who had tried to buy Sahara but could not because of differences over valuation.

Mallya confirmed tonight that some Sahara pilots approached him but made it clear he has not hired anyone. “Several Air Sahara pilots approached me for an offer but till date, neither we have selected anyone nor given appointment letter to any of them,” Mallya said.

Sahara has a fleet of Boeing 737 variants, while Kingfisher has a fleet of Airbus 320s. If Sahara pilots eventually join the Bangalore-based airline, they will have to retrain themselves to handle Airbuses.

Under rules set by the directorate general of civil aviation, pilots have to give six months’ notice to quit one airline and join another.

The rule has been laid down to check poaching, which became rampant with the mushrooming of airlines and acute shortage of trained pilots. However, the airline concerned can give a no-objection certificate and waive the six-month condition if it wants to do so.

Air Sahara pilots said their airline has decided to use this option and set aside the waiting period, following which they called off the protest that has thrown the schedule haywire since Sunday. The airline will resume normal operations from tomorrow.

However, Air Sahara said: “Our pilots have agreed to resume work from tomorrow on a promise that we will take into account their fears of pay and seniority loss in the new merged airline that is being forged. No one has resigned and no new deals have been signed.”

The pilots said the waiver deal came through during talks with Seemanta Roy, the son of Sahara chief Subrata Roy. A retirement scheme has been drawn up, they added.

The talks were held amid reports that at least 20 pilots were slated to join Kingfisher Airlines, though both Sahara and Kingfisher denied that the pilots were switching jobs.

“All that we have agreed to is that we will keep in mind the need to protect their pay and seniority while concluding the merger details with Jet,” a Sahara official said.

Mallya’s Kingfisher had bid to buy out Air Sahara but was pipped to the post by Jet, which snapped up the Lucknow-based airline for Rs 2,300 crore. It will take at least two months to wrap up the modalities of the merger.

Some pilots are also looking at migrating to other airlines like Go Air and Jagsons, but the main hurdle was the six-month mandatory wait.

Sahara pilots who had resigned before the sale was announced and had been on wait had their waiting period lifted soon after the merger was announced in January. This encouraged other pilots to seek a similar relief.

Sahara ground staff are, however, trying to work out deals with Jet to retain their positions. Jet is interviewing them individually to judge their abilities.

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