Air India Pilot Strike Off, Services Restored

September 30, 2009

Bookmark and Share

Pilots working for ailing state-run carrier Air India on Wednesday called off a strike that saw scores of flights cancelled, bookings suspended and hundreds of passengers stranded over the last four days.

About 250 pilots from the loss-making airline began strike action on September 26 after the management announced plans to cut pay incentives as part of a drive to curtail expenditure.

Captain V.K. Bhalla, a representative of the pilots, said they decided to return to work after assurances by Aviation Minister Praful Patel their grievances would be dealt with.

"We have got an official communication from the minister that things will be done according to the assurances given, so now we call off the strike," Bhalla told a news conference.

The pilots were protesting Air India's plans to cut incentive pay to its employees by up to 50 percent, in a cost-cutting measure affecting more than 7,000 employees.

Air India posted an USD$875 million loss in the fiscal year ended March and has sought a government bailout.

Air India spokesman Jitender Bhargava said the pilots would resume work immediately, adding he expected international flights to return to normal on Wednesday, while domestic services would normalise by Thursday.

"It is confirmed that the strike has been called off and normal services should resume very quickly," said Bhargava. "We have already reopened the bookings."

More than a quarter of domestic and international flights were cancelled because of the strike, including flights to London, New York and Singapore.

The carrier also suspended booking of tickets, saying it wanted to avoid last minute cancellations and inconvenience to passengers.

Analysts said authorities had opted for a quick-fix solution to resolve the four-day strike.

"To a certain extent, I think that the government has backed down," said D.H. Pai Panandikar, president of the RPG Foundation, an economic think-tank.

"By saying it will postpone the decision on the pay cuts by instituting a committee to look into the issue means the decision is unlikely to be implemented," he added.

Turning the national airline around will be a key test for the government, and could signal how far authorities are willing to go to reform state companies, often seen as drags on economic growth.