* Delhi High Court orders pilots to resume work
* Dispute over exclusive rights to fly Dreamliners
* Air India international routes disrupted
* Fired pilots to be rehired on case-by-case basis
* Rival Jet Airways benefits from labour dispute
By Anurag Kotoky
NEW DELHI, July 4 A group of pilots at ailing
national carrier Air India demanding exclusive rights to
fly new Boeing Dreamliners called off a 58-day strike
late on Tuesday, bowing to pressure from the government and a
Delhi court order.
About 500 Air India pilots who fly international routes have
been demanding that colleagues from the former Indian Airlines
not be trained to fly Dreamliners because they worried it could
hurt their career prospects.
The Air India strike added to the chaos in an industry where
the one-time No.2 carrier by domestic market share, Kingfisher
Airlines, has slashed its operating fleet to 18 from
64 and has not paid staff since January.
The strike also forced Air India to cut back on its
international schedule and combine flights, which further
strengthened the hold on international routes by market leader
"We, the pilots of Air India and members of the Indian
Pilots Guild, on the intervention of Honourable Justice Ms. Reva
Khetrapal of the Honourable Delhi High Court have started the
procedure to resume work," the Indian Pilots Guild said in a
statement late on Tuesday.
Some of the pilots are expected to return to work as soon as
Wednesday and Air India will look at reinstating the striking
pilots "sympathetically," said an Air India official, who did
not wish to be named.
The airline has also sacked more than 100 striking pilots
and said previously said it would consider rehiring those pilots
on a case-by-case basis once they unconditionally report to
Tauseef Mukadam, the joint secretary of the Indian Pilots
Guild, the union of the striking pilots, did not respond to
calls for comment. K. Swaminathan, an Air India spokesman,
declined to comment.
Indian aviation minister Ajit Singh earlier said the strike
was illegal and the government will not enter into discussions
with pilots until they report to work.
The Delhi High Court, which also previously called the
strike illegal, on Tuesday ordered the pilots to return to work
immediately and asked Air India's management to look into their
Indian carriers are reeling under a combined debt load of
$20 billion and annual losses of $2 billion, with a weak rupee
adding to their already-hefty fuel costs. All but one of India's
six big airlines loses money with privately held IndiGo the sole
Air India, still flying thanks to a much-criticised $5.8
billion government bailout, accounts for most of those losses,
according to Centre For Asia Pacific Aviation.
The debt-laden carrier risked losing its bailout funds if
the strike continued because the package is linked to meeting
certain performance-based milestones.
Critics of ongoing government support for Air India argue
the support enables it to charge below-cost fares, forcing
competitors to do the same and subsidises a bloated workforce
that at 218 staff per plane is nearly double that of Jet
Air India and its domestic counterpart, Indian Airlines,
were combined in 2007 in a merger beset with integration
problems, most related to human resource issues. The combined
carrier under the Air India brand has never made a profit.
Air India is expected to receive the first of its 27
Dreamliners soon, although the government has been wrangling
with Boeing over compensation for delayed deliveries.
The purchase of Dreamliners was criticised by a federal
auditor last year for "imposing an undue long-term financial