India

Air India cancels more flights as pilot protests go on

Protests by Air India pilots have continued for the third day with more than 20 flights cancelled on Thursday.

The airline sacked nine more pilots, taking the total number of fired pilots to 45, amid a dispute over training for the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes.

Meanwhile, some pilots of the private Kingfisher airlines have also decided not to fly in protest against the non-payment of salaries.

The airline has so far cancelled 15 flights, reports said.

Correspondents say the move is likely to compound the problems of fliers already hit by the Air India strike.

"Three international departures from Mumbai and eight from Delhi have been cancelled due to the non-availability of pilots," Press Trust of India quoted an Air India official as saying on Thursday.

Around 12 international arrivals at Delhi airport were also cancelled, the agency reported.

Air India officials said the airline had stopped taking bookings for the US and Europe-bound flights till 15 May.

Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh repeated his appeal to the pilots to return to work and said the government was willing to talk to them.

"From day one I have been saying that everything can be negotiated," Mr Singh told reporters on Thursday.

"Let them make sure AI [Air India] doesn't lose credibility and passengers don't suffer."

Meanwhile, some pilots of the private Kingfisher airlines also called in sick on Thursday, saying the management had "backtracked" on its "assurance" to pay their January salaries from 9 May.

The cash-strapped airline stopped flying international last month and curtailed its domestic operations.

'Illegal'

On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court ruled the Air India strike was illegal and ordered the pilots back to work.

Air India sought the court's intervention after some 150 of its 1,500 pilots reported sick for a second day, leading to the cancellation of a number of international flights.

The high court said the "pilots are also restrained from reporting sick, staging demonstrations or resorting to any other modes of strike".

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that the Indian Pilots Guild, a trade union of the pilots, was seeking legal advice on whether to continue the protest or return to work.

The pilots are protesting against the decision to train pilots from Indian Airlines, which merged with Air India in 2007, to fly the new planes.

Air India pilots have said the planes were ordered before the merger, so they should be preferred for training.

The dispute is the latest in a series of problems for India's national carrier.

Rising fuel costs coupled with increased competition have seen the carrier make heavy losses, raising concerns about its future.

To make matters worse, the airline's debt levels have been rising.

The airline's dwindling fortunes have seen the government come to its rescue.

Last month authorities approved a debt restructuring plan and said they would inject 300bn rupees ($5.9bn; £3.7bn) into the airline by 2020.

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