New Delhi: Beleaguered Air India on Monday extended till Thursday the bar on bookings for its West-bound flights, as it mulled the option of shutting down global operations till a resolution is found to the week-long pilots' stir which has led to a loss of over Rs.150 crore.

On day seven of the agitation by over 200 pilots, 14 international flights were cancelled, bringing no end to the woes of the passengers.

The airline, which had stopped taking bookings for flights to North America and Europe till Tuesday, extended the period till May 17, airline officials said.

Complete closure of international operations was not being ruled out if the strike continued, they said, adding that these services were responsible for about 48 per cent of the operational losses of the ailing national carrier.

Dubbing their stir "meaningless" after a court order, Government has refused to hold talks with the agitating pilots till they resumed work. Hundreds of passengers were stranded following the flight cancellations.

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said, "whatever issues they have raised for this strike have already been resolved ....By the court order, therefore, this strike is meaningless now." The Delhi High Court had last week called the stir by a section of pilots as illegal.

"Why would anybody talk to everybody...There is no point. This is not negotiable. They struck on certain issues, those issues are not there anymore. Let them withdraw (their strike), we will then review what should be done then," he added.

The Air India Board, which met here, expressed serious concern at the mounting losses due to the strike, the officials said, adding that the ongoing agitation has led to additional loss of over Rs 150 crore for the airline.

Independent Directors on the Board are understood to have supported the management for taking stern action against the pilots. The airline has sacked 71 pilots, de-recognised their union -- Indian Pilots' Guild, and sealed their offices.

The Board reviewed the implementation of the Turnaround Plan but members are understood to have pointed out that the strike and the resultant losses have led to problems in release of funds by the bankers of Air India.

It also decided to appoint a consultant for monetization of the airline's assets, spread across the country and abroad.

The national carrier has already firmed up a contingency plan that would see curtailment of daily international operations by more than half.

It plans to operate seven daily West-bound flights instead of 16 which were being run earlier and they would operate to North America with one stop in Frankfurt, Paris or even London. These flights would be operated by executive pilots.

The airline operates 16 flights a day with large, wide- body aircraft used to fly to the US, Europe, the Far East, and South-East Asia — all sectors affected by the agitation by a section of pilots.

The airline also plans to wet lease some aircraft so that it can operate 4-5 more daily international flights, as part of the contingency plan.

The flights cancelled today include those between Mumbai and Newark, London and Shanghai and the services between Delhi and Narita (Tokyo), Frankfurt, Paris, Toronto, Hong Kong and Seoul.


Latest News from India News Desk