New Delhi: Air India on Thursday moved the Supreme Court to force the striking pilots back to work as their agitation dragged on for the third day affecting the carrier's operation and rocking both houses of parliament with members saying the protest action is destroying the national airline and sending wrong signals to the world outside.

The airline filed a criminal contempt against the agitating pilots blaming them for obstructing the implementation of an earlier order of the apex court allowing training of pilots of the erstwhile Indian Airlines on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The airline also filed a contempt of court petition in the Delhi High Court against the pilots who were restrained by the court Wednesday not to go on a strike.

The agitation forced the management to cancel eight more international flights, stop bookings on some major long-haul routes for the next five days and sack nine more pilots."We had to cancel eight international flights from Delhi and Mumbai. Rest all international flights are operating per schedule," a senior Air India official told IANS in New Delhi.

Trouble started for the airline when pilots belonging to IPG, of pre-merger Air India pilots, had gone on mass 'sick' leave protesting the move by the airline to provide Boeing-787 Dreamliner training to pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines. The flights to and from the national capital to various international destinations like Chicago, Toronto, Shanghai, Paris and Frankfurt have been affected.

From Mumbai, two international operations to New Jersey and Riyadh were cancelled.The flag carrier's international low-cost subsidiary Air India Express had also to cancel six flight operations to various destinations from south India to the Middle East.

The airline also announced that it has closed ticket bookings on ultra long-haul routes till May 15. Closure in ticket bookings will affect around 15 flights to West-bound destinations such as the US, Europe, and some other destinations like Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Air India is estimated to be losing Rs.10 crore every day, besides the loss in passenger goodwill and international image at the height of the holiday season.

Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Gurudas Dasgupta of the Communist Party of India said: "Step by step, Air India is being destroyed. I urge the government to call the pilots and deal with their demands."He alleged that instead of protecting Air India, private players were being patronised. "There should be a concrete revival plan for Air India," he said. Basudeb Acharia of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) asked Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, who was present in the house, to respond to these demands. In the Rajya Sabha, Ram Chandra Khuntia of the Congress said frequent strikes were sending wrong signals to the international community. "Derecognition of the union and suspension of pilots are not a permanent solution.

A long-term settlement of the issue must be done." The civil aviation minister earlier regretted the decision to merge Air India and Indian Airlines. "Their cultures were entirely different. Air India's way of doing things, Indian Airlines way of doing things, their pay scales, their promotion policies and their areas of operation were also entirely different," he told a television channel. The IPG has said it is open to talks, but the government has made it clear that there would be no negotiations till the pilots returned to work.

(Agencies)

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