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Apr 30, 2011 at 10:05am IST

Day 4, AI pilots strike: 126 flights cancelled

New Delhi: A chaotic weekend is expected across airports as the Air India Pilots' strike entered its 4th day on Saturday. 126 flights have been cancelled since Saturday morning and more cancellations are likely.

Air India further reduced its operations to 39 domestic flights out of its regular 320 inconveniencing passengers. Officials say the number could decrease further.

Over 700 pilots are still on strike - that's more than half of the pilots force that Air India has, including the executives.

"We have curtailed more than 52 per cent of our domestic flights and operating on only trunk routes that is too metro cities," an AI spokesperson said.

"Under the contingency plan, we have reduced the number of flights as we don not have any pilots," he said.

The deadlock continues as Air India management has refused to come to the taking table till pilots get back to work.

The strike has already cost the airline Rs 26 crore - 126 flights were cancelled on Friday as well and no new bookings are being made for the next three days.

The question now being asked - is privatising Air India the only solution to resurrect the bleeding Maharaja. Aviation experts have told CNN-IBN that privatising the national carrier is the only solution.

AI to operate just 39 flights

While 21 flights will be operated from the national capital, Air India's Mumbai operations have almost come to a standstill as the airline may operate just five flights between 9 and 11 30 am, an AI spokeswoman said in Mumbai. The national carrier did not undertake any operations from Mumbai before 9 am.

Sources said that Air India will be operating the Delhi-Patna-Varanasi flight AI 409 and Delhi-Mumbai-Delhi AI 805 on an aircraft which has been taken on wet lease to operate the two flights. Under a wet lease, an aircraft comes along with crew members.

Air India has withdrawn or cancelled 120 domestic flights.

Meanwhile, the Mumbai International Airport's main runway would be shut between 11.30 am and 3.30 pm on Saturday for repair work. The runway was closed on April 23 also for the same reason.

On Friday, AI had operated just 12 flights from the financial capital. Normally, the state-owned carrier operates over 40 flights a day on the domestic sector from Mumbai using narrow bodied aircraft.

Nearly 850 AI pilots are continuing their strike ignoring stern warning of sacking by the management and the Delhi High Court's decision to initiate contempt proceedings against them.

Striking Air India pilots on Friday said they were willing to go to jail and refused to call off their agitation.

The Delhi High Court on Friday initiated contempt of court proceedings against

the pilots for their "utter defiance" of its order on Wednesday to call off the agitation calling it as "brazen and smacking of sheer arrogance".

A lockout of the airline and invoking of Essential Services Maintenance Act(ESMA) were also being mulled to crack down on the pilots.

The AI management ordered the pilots to report for duty failing which it said the airline "is at liberty to take any action as deemed fit including termination of services".

The management sacked two more pilots yesterday taking to nine the number of pilots terminated. Six pilots have been already suspended.

Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), which is spearheading the stir, is demanding a higher fixed component in the salary package, a CBI probe into alleged mismanagement which has led to losses of over Rs 16,000 crore and removal of Air India CMD Arvind Jadhav holding him responsible for the "financial mess".

(With additional information from PTI)

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