Air India pilots threaten strike

Air India's disgruntled pilots have once again threatened to go on strike from 16 March if the government fails to resolve disputes relating to their salaries and other matters.

The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), the union that represents 800 pilots of the erstwhile Indian Airlines – which was merged with Air India in 2007 – had served a notice on the management on 23 February stating that they would strike work from 9 March.

They were, however, persuaded to postpone their action by civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi, who met various union leaders in Mumbai a few days ago. The ICPA is demanding parity in salaries and other working conditions for pilots of the erstwhile Indian Airlines, implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations and payment of arrears.

Ravi had also announced the setting up of a three-member committee to look into the grievances of the pilots. The pilots are now demanding immediate pay parity with the Air India pilots, failing which they would go on a strike.

The cash-strapped airline has been losing money over the past few years. In fiscal 2008-09, it lost Rs7,189 crore and in 2009-10, the loss added up to Rs5,550 crore. The central government had injected Rs2,000 crore by way of fresh equity. And in his budget proposals, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had allocated Rs1,200 crore fro the financial restructuring of the National Aviation Company of India Ltd, the state-owned parent body of the airline.

Uncertainty about the fate of the national carrier – which has also seen some of its top executives being asked to leave in recent weeks – has resulted in its being overtaken by private carriers. Air India has been losing market share in recent years; it now ranks number four – with a share of just 17.1 per cent – after Jet Airways, Kingfisher and Indigo.