Bird's eye view of the Air India pilots strike

Bird's eye view of the Air India pilots strike

Another corporate quagmire threatens to harm both consumer confidence in the aviation industry and the government's reputation
Air India strike
Striking pilots representing the Indian Commercial Pilots Association shout anti-corruption slogans during a protest on May 1.

As 80 percent of Air India's pilots enter their sixth day of striking the debt-ridden national carrier cancels 90 percent of its domestic flights, and is running limited operations till May 6.

"We are continuing with our contingency plans and will be operating 40 domestic flights across the country today," an Air India spokesperson told the Economic Times.

This is a consumer crisis directly linked to the Prime Minister as the chairman and managing director of Air India reports directly to Manmohan Singh's office.

Captain Rishabh Kapur, 31, is spearheading the strike for parity in wages from when the government merged Air India with Indian Airlines in 2007.

Kapur has served Air India for ten years and is general secretary of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA).

The protest is also to demand an "inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into how Air India amassed a debt of US$8 billion in four years," reports Mint.

"I want to assure our fliers that our fight is against the corruption in a company that is run with their money," Kapur says.

Meanwhile, opposing political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suggests a larger end game is at work. 

"Is it a well-planned conspiracy to shut down the airline or does the government want to privatise Air India," BJP spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy asks the Hindustan Times.

An enlightening interview with Gustav Baldauf appeared in MiD Day a few days ago, where the former Air India COO provides some backstory from the boardroom over the last year.

An even more interesting Economic Times op-ed piece by Debasish Roy paints a picture of the long underperforming, state-owned carrier as an "old boy network and a close encounters with the public sector kind [of] country club" which will "never cease to be in demand" until "better sense prevails."

Sita Wadhwani is CNNGo City Editor in Mumbai.


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