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Air India crisis: Pilots seek PM, Sonia's intervention

June 28, 2012 18:17 IST

Air IndiaAgitating Air India pilots on Thursday urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress top brass to step in to resolve the impasse over the 52-day long strike, as the condition of some of them on protest fast worsened.

The Indian Pilots' Guild, which is spearheading the agitation and the five-day-old hunger strike, shot off letters to Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi, seeking their 'urgent intervention to resolve the prolonged agitation'.

With three pilots, who were on hunger strike since Sunday, being hospitalised yesterday following deterioration in their health, the condition of a few more in Delhi and Mumbai worsened.

The agitators got a shot in their arm with the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations extending support to them and urging aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation to 'make a positive contribution towards ending this dispute' by bringing both sides to the negotiating table.

In a letter to DGCA chief E K Bharat Bhushan, IFALPA President Capt Don Wykoff said, "This is a very sad situation that is showing no signs of resolution and is surely in no one's interests.

"Therefore, whilst it is not our role to sit in judgement as to the rights and wrongs of the dispute that seem centred on issues arising from the Air India and Indian Airlines merger, we fell a duty to make every effort to find a solution which is both fair and acceptable to both sides."

Castigating the Air India management for maintaining 'a stony silence' on finding a resolution to the prolonged imbroglio, IPG Joint Secretary Tauseef H Mukadam said in that the well-being of the airline was "essential if the aviation industry has to be an engine of economic growth".

"Sadly, the (Civil Aviation) Ministry and the Air India management have proven to be incapable of handling the affairs of Air India," he said in identical letters.

Mukadam also alleged that there was 'a major disconnect' between the ministry and the airline management on the issues raised in the agitation.

Over 400 IPG pilots, who are on strike since May 7, launched an indefinite hunger strike from Sunday to demand withdrawal of sack orders against 101 pilots and better career progression prospects.

Air India is estimated to have lost about Rs 530 crore (Rs 5.3 billion) because of the agitation.

While the agitators have accused the management of not being keen to resolve the impasse by 'steadfastly refusing' to talk to them, the government has made it clear that they should return to work unconditionally.

With their indefinite hunger strike in Delhi and Mumbai continuing since Sunday, two among 12 pilots in Mumbai and one of the 15 in Delhi were hospitalised yesterday, with pilots saying that the physical condition of a few more had worsened.

The IPG has already said that 'for the sake of the passengers, we are willing to walk the extra mile to find a resolution to this dispute, we hope that the Ministry and the AI management feels the same way.'

Recalling that in 1993, the erstwhile Indian Airlines management had replaced its striking pilots with those from a foreign airline and a Tupolev-154 aircraft had crashed at the Delhi airport, the IPG claimed that the management had then immediately started talks with the agitators.

"In the context of the current agitation, is the ministry and the AI management waiting for such a disaster before they start talking to the pilots," the IPG said in a statement.

The airline, which has been operating a curtailed international schedule, plans to gradually restore normalcy in its long-haul operations. While it resumed operations to Tokyo and Shanghai last week, it plans to launch flights to Hong Kong which were stopped due to the pilots' strike.

It is also planning to start a new flight to Kuala Lumpur and resume Seoul-Osaka operations in August and fly to Australia by September end.

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