As the agitation by Air India executive pilots entered the fourth day, the government on Tuesday talked tough, asking them to resume duty from Wednesday failing which the management of the airlines would take 'necessary' action, but the pilots have refused to relent.
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel insisted that the decision on Productivity-Linked Incentive (PLI) had not been implemented as yet and hence the pilots had no reason to be aggrieved".
Hours after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took stock of the situation arising out of the agitation, Patel said the decision on PLI cut would be implemented only after discussions with the pilots.
Describing the 'strike' by the executive pilots as a "matter of concern", the minister asked them "see reason" and "cooperate".
"I hope the entire airline (AI) will come back to full operation from tomorrow, failing which the management will be free to take any decision that it feels is necessary," he said.
Passengers stranded, flights cancelled
His warning came as 20 more executive pilots joined the stir taking the number of those reporting "sick" to 200. The protest led to cancellation of over 230 flights over the last four days, with 80 being cancelled only on Tuesday.
Earlier, hundreds of passengers were stranded with the agitation by Air India executive pilots entering the fourth day on Tuesday.
The national carrier cancelled over 40 flights, including 15 from the national capital, and suspended bookings for the next 15 days.
With 600 more Air India pilots threatening to join the strike, the situation was looking like it would get out of hand.
The prime minister's office had intervened on Monday to resolve the vexed issue but no breakthrough has yet been achieved. Civil Aviation Secretary N M Nambiar held a top-level meeting to review the situation. Patel who was in Mumbai was asked to rush to Delhi to resolve the issue.
V K Bhalla, a senior executive pilot at Air India, meanwhile said that he saw a 'conspiracy in the stand taken by the airline management' and alleged that the managing director Arvind Jadhav's stance is "designed to help private airlines".
Talks between the management and the striking executive pilots on Monday had failed to break the deadlock over the issue of cut in perks.
"About 10 domestic flights to Bangalore, Kolkata [, Chennai, Guwahati, Mumbai and other west-bound destinations were cancelled besides five flights to Kabul, Kathmandu, New York, London and Chicago.The flights have been cancelled after the pilots of these flights reported sick," an airline official said.
The agitation by the pilots, who are protesting against the cut in the Productivity Linked Incentives (PIL), is likely to intensify as the executive pilots working with the airlines before its merger also joined them. This led to cancellation of AI coded early morning international flights from Delhi and Mumbai.
The senior pilots of the cash-strapped national carrier have been reporting 'sick ' for their duties, since Saturday, in protest against the management's decision to cut their perks and also full payment of the due allowances.
As per its contingency plan, Air India, which generally operates about 55 daily flights from the national capital, today decided to operate only 16 flights till afternoon. The contingency plan has been devised keeping in view the passenger load and the availability of the pilots, the official said.
About five domestic morning flights from Chennai and few others from Mumbai and Kolkata also remained cancelled.
With more pilots reporting 'sick' for their duties, Air India has suspended the booking of its flights for the next 15 days in an effort to restore normalcy and prepare a fresh roster.
"We have stopped fresh booking for the next 15 days so that we can assess the passenger load and restore normalcy of lights by preparing a fresh roster after derostering the sick pilots," the official said, adding these sick pilots would be derostered till further notice.
Aviation ministry rules out shutdown
After speculation that Air India may suspend operations over the stalemate with the striking pilots, the Civil Aviation Ministry late on Monday night ruled out a shutdown and the airline said there will not be a situation requiring a 'lock-out'.
The ministry also appealed to the executive pilots to immediately end their strike which entered the third-day on Monday disrupting another 40 flights. The pilots of the cash-strapped airline are protesting against the cut in the Productivity Linked Incentives (PLI).
Air India CMD Arvind Jadhav said, "We are not contemplating any type of action that we lead ourselves to a situation which will require to discipline anybody on hand or a lock-out."
The ministry said the 'government support' is coming but will be linked to a proper turn-around plan including cost-cutting in revenue enhancement.
With more and more pilots reporting sick, Air India has decided to suspend flights on routes on which it lacks resources.
"We are suspending operations only on routes on which we do not have resources. We have formed a committee and that will submit its report in 10 days," said a senior airline official.