Air India pilots extend strike, flights cancelled

MUMBAI - Some 50 more pilots from India's national carrier Air India joined a second day of industrial action on Wednesday, taking the total to 150 and forcing more international flights to be cancelled, officials said.

The airline, which loses nearly US$2 million (S$2.5 million) a day, is facing mounting problems due to rising fuel prices, competition from low-cost rivals and a record of labour disputes.

"About 150 pilots representing the Indian Pilots' Guild have reported sick since Monday night," K. Swaminathan, a spokesman for Air India, told AFP.

Air India, which has sacked 10 of the striking pilots, said that only four international flights, including two to New York, were cancelled on Wednesday due to other pilots being called onto duty.

Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh described the strike as illegal but said the government was open to talks once staff returned to work.

"Discussion and disruption cannot take place at the same time. It is a totally unjustified not showing up for work," Singh told the NDTV channel.

The pilots are protesting against former Indian Airlines pilots, who moved to Air India when the two firms merged, also being trained for new Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplanes, saying the plan would threaten their career prospects.

The Indian government approved a restructuring plan last month to help turn around the fortunes of the beleaguered carrier, but warned that its performance would be strictly monitored.

Become a fan on Facebook