CAP­TAINS OF CRASH- LAND­ING

A union holds the na­tional car­rier to ran­som even as the civil avi­a­tion min­is­ter re­fuses to ne­go­ti­ate un­til the strik­ing pi­lots re­turn to work

India Today - - THE BIG STORY - AP By

Bhavna Vij- Aurora and

Dhi­raj Nay­yar

The lo­cal of­fice of the Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party ( NCP) in the Panch­pakhadi area of Thane, 30 km out­side Mum­bai, is an un­likely head­quar­ters for the strik­ing pi­lots of Air In­dia. Out­side, in the drive­way and court­yard, are sev­eral cages filled with ex­otic birds. Ji­ten­dra Awhad, 47, an MLA from Thane, says he loves birds, par­tic­u­larly their chirp­ing.

The birds are well- fed, but locked in Awhad’s cages, they will never fly. As pres­i­dent of the strik­ing In­dian Pi­lots’ Guild ( IPG), a union which rep­re­sents the pi­lots of the pre- merger Air In­dia, Awhad has caged the na­tional air­line. Prior to this, pi­lots of the erst­while In­dian Air­lines ( IA) led by the In­dian Com­mer­cial Pi­lots’ As­so­ci­a­tion ( ICPA) or­gan­ised two ma­jor strikes in Septem­ber 2009 and April- May 2011. The three strikes have cost a loss of over Rs 500 crore and dis­rup­tion of flights for nearly a month in to­tal.

Air In­dia’s in­ter­na­tional flights are grounded, leav­ing thou­sands of pas­sen­gers and hol­i­day- mak­ers stranded. The air­line, be­ing gen­er­ously fed with tax­pay­ers’ money, will never fly high as long as it re­mains in the clutches of its unions, which en­cour­age their mem­bers to play tru­ant time and again. This time, 341 of the to­tal 450 Air In­dia pi­lots, all mem­bers of IPG, have re­ported sick.

The strike be­gan less than a month af­ter the Gov­ern­ment an­nounced a new Rs 30,000- crore bailout over a 10- year pe­riod to Air In­dia. The air­line is los­ing Rs 12 crore ev­ery day since the strike started on May 7. It al­ready had cu­mu­la­tive losses of Rs 22,000 crore and an out­stand­ing debt bur­den of Rs 46,000 crore.

The prob­lem for the do­mes­tic car­rier started soon af­ter the merger of Air In­dia and In­dian Air­lines in 2007, with pi­lots of both car­ri­ers fol­low­ing dif­fer­ent pay struc­tures and work rules. The IPG feels that the ri­val union extracted its pound of flesh from the Gov­ern­ment, forc­ing an agree­ment, grant­ing a salary hike up to Rs 1 lakh per month per pi­lot, and par­ity for Boe­ing 787 Dream­liner

It’s dif­fi­cult for the com­mon man to un­der­stand, but what seems petty to you will de­ter­mine the ca­reer prospects of many of our pi­lots.

JI­TEN­DRA AWHAD

Pres­i­dent, In­dian Pi­lots’ Guild train­ing. The ICPA claims that the Gov­ern­ment re­neged on its prom­ise of a pay hike for the pre- merger In­dian Air­lines pi­lots. Both the unions also fre­quently com­plain that the pi­lots are not paid on time, some­times for as long as six months.

There are reg­u­lar de­mands for par­ity in terms of pay scales and ca­reer pro­gres­sion, but the Min­istry of Civil Avi­a­tion and the Air In­dia man­age­ment have com­pletely failed in ad­dress­ing the is­sues, al­low­ing the unions to run amok with their de­mands. The Gov­ern­ment had set up a four- mem­ber Jus­tice D. M.

AIR IN­DIA IS LOS­ING RS 12 CRORE EVERYDAYSINCE THE STRIKE STARTED

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