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May 10, 2012 at 09:16am IST

Air India-Indian Airlines merger was a mistake: Ajit Singh

New Delhi: Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh has expressed regret over the Air India-Indian Airlines merger, saying the division was a mistake.

Speaking to CNN-IBN, Ajit Singh said that in retrospect that decision did cause problems.

ALSO SEE After HC ruling, Air India sacks 16 more pilots

"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. So that did cause lot of problems and that is why even now they are not really integrated. That's why as I said the challenge now is to implement justice Dharmadhikari's report." he said.

Meanwhile, turbulence continued to hit Air India as 18 flights from Delhi and Mumbai were cancelled on Thursday.

The details of the flights which were cancelled from Mumbai: AI 191 Mumbai–New York, AI 921 Mumbai–Riyad, AI 131 Mumbai–London, AI 931 Mumbai-Jeddah.

Air India's Delhi-Amritsar-Toronto flight was also cancelled due to strike. Since two days this flight has not worked due to striking pilots, reports said.

Earlier on Wednesday, soon after the Delhi High Court declared that the Air India Pilots' strike is illegal, the Air India management acted and sacked 16 more pilots. Admonishing Air India pilots union Indian Pilots Guild, the court said that the strike should be halted until hearings in the case are completed and also said no pilots should call in sick.

The court observed that Air India is a public utility services company and the Supreme Court through various orders has said that such a company cannot be held to ransom by using methods like strike of calling in sick.

Air India management argued before the court that inter-union rivalry between erstwhile Air India and the Indian Airlines was the reason behind the strike. According to the management there were two aircraft at the centre of the controversy - Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Boeing 777 - and who should be trained on them. The unions were not in agreement whether pilots from Air India or Indian Airlines should be trained on the two aircraft.

A decision was taken that the training on the Dreamliner would be in the ratio 1:1 and that had already begun. Aggrieved by this decision the Indian Pilots Guild moved the High Court and the Indian Commercial Pilots Association moved the Supreme Court.

On April 23 the Supreme Court said that the training in the 1:1 ratio would continue. Despite this order the Indian Pilots Guild went to strike as a pressure tactics against the training parity.

The management argued that the strike has led to hardship for thousands of passengers and in times of difficulties it is creating huge loss for the airline. The management pointed out that modus operandi adopted by the pilots was to report sick.

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh talked tough after the High Court order, having already warned that the government may consider downsizing the airline if the agitation by the pilots continued.

"It was always clear that this is an illegal strike. Pilots are openly saying we will be sick. It's planned sickness. I am sure after the judgement, I am sure the management can take a tough call. I haven't seen the judgement but if what you saying about the judgement against Indian Pilots Guild. Now I am sure pilots can be fired," said Singh.

Raising the issue of strike by pilots of Air India in the Rajya Sabha, a Congress member on Wednesday said frequent strikes were creating a bad atmosphere and sending wrong signals to the international community about the national carrier.

Ram Chandra Khuntia said during Zero Hour that even after a big financial package was given to Air India, salaries of pilots and other staff were not paid and passengers were facing serious problems.

"It is not convincing that even after a big financial package, the strike is continuing...it is creating a bad atmosphere and sending wrong messages to the international community," he said.

(With additional inputs from PTI)