Air India forced to cancel flights as 100 pilots "call in sick"

NEW DELHI Wed May 9, 2012 3:12am IST

Customers stand at an Air India reservation office at the domestic airport in Mumbai May 8, 2012. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

Customers stand at an Air India reservation office at the domestic airport in Mumbai May 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Vivek Prakash

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Air India has cancelled four international flights after about a 100 pilots called in "sick" late on Monday, in a move to mount pressure on the state-run carrier on their demands for exclusivity in flying Boeing's Dreamliner.

The national carrier has about 500 pilots who operate international flights and they have been demanding that pilots from its former state-owned partner Indian Airlines should not be trained to fly Dreamliners, as it may hurt the career prospects of the original Air India employees.

The first of the 27 Dreamliners will join the Air India fleet this month.

Air India and Indian Airlines were merged in 2007, although the integration process faced much criticism from industry experts. Air India's purchase of Dreamliners was also criticised by the CAG last year for "imposing an undue long-term financial burden".

"We have cancelled 4 flights till now. We have flights scheduled for tonight and tomorrow early morning. Let us see what developments take place by then," Air India spokesman K. Swaminathan told Reuters on Tuesday.

Air India, which operates about 50 international flights a day, said it cancelled flights to Toronto, Chicago and Hong Kong from New Delhi and one flight from Mumbai to New Jersey.

The government has extended a life line to Air India, which is on course to receive a $5.8 billion bailout by 2020. Its 19 lenders are also restructuring $4.2 billion in loans.

India's aviation sector has been bleeding because of high fuel costs, low fares and debts of $20 billion.

Pilots at Kingfisher Airlines (KING.NS), the debt-laden carrier controlled by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, have threatened to strike from Wednesday if their salary dues were not paid.

Mallya said in a letter this week the carrier would start paying January salaries from Wednesday.

(Reporting by Anurag Kotoky; editing by Malini Menon)

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