New Delhi: At least 44 Air India flights, including some from and to international destinations, were cancelled on Saturday as about 50 pilots reported for duty but did not operate flights protesting delay in payment of wages.
The government said a solution to the problem could be found only next week and most of the wages might be paid by next the end of next week.
36 flights were cancelled from Delhi till 5 PM and 8 from Mumbai, as the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) office-bearers held a meeting with the airline management.
The agitating pilots reported for duty but said they were under stress due to the financial problems they were facing and therefore unable to undertake flight duties, airline sources said. The ICPA, which has not given a call for the agitation, appealed to the agitators to return to work.
While most of the long-haul international flights to destinations like London, New York, Toronto, Tokyo and Chicago operated as scheduled, flights to or from Kabul, Kathmandu, Muscat and Abu Dhabi stood cancelled.
Confusion prevailed at the IGI Airport here with a large number of passengers queueing up at Air India counters to find the status of their flights as several domestic flights were delayed and some others combined.
While sympathising with the pilots, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said "the employees have a problem, they have not been paid for one-two months. Allowances have not been paid for quite a few months now. We understand their problem but Air India's finances are in a bad condition. Their accounts were frozen yesterday."
Maintaining that he would meet Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee next week over the Air India issue, Singh said "by the end of next week, may be we will be able to pay...I won't say all the allowances and salaries will be paid but most of it should be paid."
Most of the flights cancelled were operated by Airbus A-320s, whereas operations by turbo-prop ATRs, Canadian Regional Jets and the long-haul Boeings continued as usual, airline sources said.
Top ICPA leaders, President A S Bhinder and General Secretary Rishabh Kapur, met Air India CMD Rohit Nandan and top officials here. They are understood to have pointed out that the payment of productivity-linked incentive (PLI) and flying allowances have been pending since last August.
The flying allowances constitute 80 per cent of the pay package, sources said.
It is understood that the management told the ICPA leaders that they would be able to pay one month's in a week's time and another instalment in a month but the entire backlog would not be cleared before March.
After the hour-long meeting, the ICPA leaders went into a huddle with their colleagues to discuss the management's offer.
Protesting non-payment of their salary and allowances, a section of Air India pilots went on a "no-pay-no-work" agitation from midnight last night.
The Civil Aviation Minister earlier today emphasised that Air India had a long term financial problem but said "we are worried about the employees. Any employee who does not get paid for months, we can understand their problem. We are working to resolve the short-term problem. We hope by the end of next week, these should be resolved".
An ICPA spokesperson said "the management should ensure that unstressed pilots sit in the cockpit to fly an aircraft safely". He said Air India employees were disappointed as the government was "dragging its feet" on the revival of Air