New Delhi, April 30: More than 150 flights were grounded as the Air India pilots strike continued for the fourth day despite the threat of a six-month jail term for contempt of court.
Around half of Air Indias 1,600 pilots are on strike.
Their protest has caused a net loss of Rs 26 crore to the airline, already facing a financial crises with losses mounting to nearly Rs 15,000 crore since 2007 when Indian Airlines and Air-India merged under a new entity Ś the National Aviation Company of India Limited.
The striking pilots belong to the erstwhile Indian Airlines and want pay parity with pilots from the erstwhile Air-India.
Nobody can dictate terms to the government, especially a few pilots. They are one of the highest paid people in this country, said civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi, who has completely backed the airline management after briefing the cabinet.
The Air India management is considering extending the suspension of further bookings beyond May 4 as was originally planned, an airline official said.
An airline spokesperson said: We have curtailed more than 52 per cent of our domestic flights and are operating on only trunk routesů.
Delhi High Court yesterday initiated contempt of court proceedings against the pilots for their utter defiance of its order on Wednesday to call off the strike. The court described their action as brazen and smacking of sheer arrogance.
The government is also considering invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma).
The management ordered the pilots to report for duty failing which it would be at liberty to take any action as deemed fit, including termination of services.
Two more pilots were sacked yesterday, taking to nine the number of those who have been axed. Six pilots have been suspended.
Besides a higher fixed component in the salary package, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association spearheading the strike wants a CBI probe into alleged mismanagement of the airline and removal of chairperson Arvind Jadhav, whom it holds responsible for the financial mess.
Thousands of passengers stranded because of cancelled flights encountered a 50-75 per cent jump in fares of private airlines.
In the Delhi-Mumbai sector, for example, some passengers said the base fare that hovers around Rs 2,400-Rs 3,000 for last-minute bookings had been pushed up to Rs 7,500 by some carriers, resulting in a one-way cost of Rs 11,500, including various levies.
13 city flights off
Air India today cancelled 13 of the 20 flights it operates from Calcutta because of the pilot strike.
One flight to Delhi took off along with those to Port Blair, Bagdogra and the Northeast. Passengers had a tough time getting seats on private airlines because of the weekend rush.
Baidehi Mitra, an NRI from London who was going back home with her two children after a holiday in Calcutta, was booked on Air Indias Calcutta-Delhi-London flight.
The Calcutta-Delhi flight got cancelled. I would miss my connecting flight to London from Delhi, so I cancelled the Air India ticket, she said. Mitra got tickets on Kingfisher but had to pay around 25 per cent more.
P. Jaishankar, a research scholar from an institute in Calcutta, was booked on Air Indias flight to Hyderabad via Delhi for a meeting. The Delhi flight was cancelled and I could not get a booking for any other flight, he said.
Jaishankar finally got a ticket via Chennai on a private airline but will have to wait at Chennai airport for nearly 10 hours for the connecting flight.
More than 80 per cent of the passengers who had booked Air India tickets months back are now cancelling and seeking alternative arrangements. This has led to a sharp rise in demand and fares of private airline flights, said Anil Punjabi, chairperson, Travel Agents Federation of India, East.