Air India flights cancelled by strike

Staff in Dubai are trying to arrange flights for passengers at other airlines.

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DUBAI // Air India flights to the UAE were severely affected yesterday by a pilots' strike that resulted in up to 80 per cent of the airline's scheduled trips being cancelled.

Staff of the national carrier in Dubai said they were trying to arrange alternative flights for those affected by the disruption that began on Tuesday evening.

According to Indian media reports, 600 Air India pilots belonging to the Indian Commercial Pilots Association have gone on strike.

On February 23, the association issued a labour dispute warning and went into discussions with management. Despite negotiations that lasted several weeks, talks broke down and the final meeting between the two sides took place on Tuesday, followed by Wednesday's strike action.

Passengers were being transferred to flights with other airlines.

"We have had 75 to 80 per cent of flights cancelled - not just in Dubai, but also Sharjah and Abu Dhabi - since last night," said Abhay Patak, the airline's regional manager based in Dubai."We are continuing to monitor the situation and we are working to arrange other aircraft to take up the load or get passengers on other airlines."

He would not say how many flights had been cancelled and said he could not rule out further disruption.

Rafeeq Eroth, who is the president of the Malabar Coordination Council, an umbrella group in Dubai for 50 organisations from the Malabar area of southern India, said the strike was a concern to his members.

"At the moment we don't know when this strike will end. So for people who have booked tickets or have already flown out and are waiting to come back it will be a real worry."

He said the biggest concern for his members was the issue of when their tickets would be refunded if a flight were cancelled.

"It's all very well for them to say that people will get refunds, but how long will it take?"

In a statement on Wednesday, Air India's management said it was looking into pay parity. The Indian government has appointed the retired Supreme Court justice Shri Dharamadhikari to a panel looking at the issue.

Air India said it considered the strike illegal because the issue is under an ongoing tribunal.

The dispute stems from the company's creation in 2007, following a merger between the state-owned India Airlines and Air India to form the National Aviation Company of India Limited , which was later renamed Air India.

Pilots who were employed with the original Indian Airlines have said their pay is lower than that of their colleagues at the original Air India and are demanding parity.