By Rohit Vaid
New Delhi: After 47 days of strike that caused Air India a revenue loss of about Rs.520 crore, the pilots would now emulate Anna Hazare to fight injustice and pursue their demand by going on a fast from Sunday.
“We have received the mandatory clearances for going on a hunger strike. Eight members of our union will sit on fast from Sunday at Jantar Mantar here,” Rohit Kapahi, committee member of Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG), told IANS.
“We along with our families will be there to support our colleagues. We want this strike to end, as soon as possible, but we will not come back to work till our 101 sacked colleagues are reinstated,” he said.
The Air India management earlier sacked the pilots belonging to the IPG, which struck work May 8 against the management move to train pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines in the merged entity on the soon-to-be-inducted Boeing-787 Dreamliner.
The pilots’ announcement on their “Anna-type” protest fast assumes significance as this will be one of the first instances in the country where highly paid professionals such as pilots would sit on a hunger strike.
“Our colleagues who are going on the hunger strike will be led by Captain Aditya Singh Dhillon who is a senior commander. We will also provide our pay slips and show the world that we earn as per the industry norms and that no astronomical pays are given to us,” Kapahi said.
On June 6, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told the pilots that while the government was ready to pore over their demands, the pilots would have to first call off the “illegal strike”. At the same time, the airline has also started the process of hiring new pilots.
“We are not waiting for them for ever. We earlier asked them (pilots) to come back and said that no one will be victimised. We had even given a chance to sacked pilots that they can also come back and we will take them back on a case-to-case basis,” the minister earlier told IANS.
“I have told them my stand, now they need to think,” Ajit Singh said.
The airline on its part has issued advertisements on its website for hiring new pilots for a contract of five years.
The advertisements called for both commanders and co-pilots, who can operate Boeing 777s, 747s and 737s. The applicants will have to go through an interview and flight simulator tests in Mumbai.
The hiring process would end July 23. Air India expects to hire nearly 100 pilots who, along with 90 more trainee pilots, meet the shortfall in the manpower.
However, experts say that it will take Air India nearly four-five months to get the trainee pilots trained as well as give orientation to the new joinees.
The airline’s fleet of Boeing’s ultra-long haul aircraft is being operated by executive pilots, who have complained of stress and fatigue. The executive pilots are not linked to the on-going agitation.
Currently, the airline is operating only 38 of its original 45 services. Among the seven axed international destinations are Hong Kong, Osaka, Seoul and Toronto.