x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Air India cancels flights as 350 striking pilots call in sick

India's struggling flagship carrier Air India on Monday cancelled 16 international flights with hundreds of pilots staying away from work as a wildcat strike stretched into its second week.

NEW DELHI // India's struggling flagship carrier Air India on Monday cancelled 16 international flights with hundreds of pilots staying away from work as a wildcat strike stretched into its second week.

A company spokesman said about 350 pilots had reported sick as part of a strategy to press the management to accept their demands in a dispute over training.

They are protesting against former Indian Airlines pilots, who moved to Air India when the two state-run companies merged in 2007, being trained for new Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes.

They say the plan threatens their career prospects.

"Sixteen international flights stand cancelled today but a contingency plan will be in place shortly," Air India spokesman Prasad Rao said in New Delhi without giving further details.

Flights into New Delhi from Paris, Riyadh, Toronto and Tokyo were among those cancelled, as were flights from Mumbai to New York.

Mr Rao said 71 Air India pilots had been fired over the strike in a crackdown to try to force the others back to work during the country's important May-June tourism season.

The state-run carrier has some 800 pilots on its payroll.

"There is concern about passengers and I would like to reiterate that there is no reason to strike," Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said on Monday.

"You want to talk to us... who has stopped you?" Singh asked the pilots. "We want to revive Air India and I expect many such hiccups."

The Indian Pilots' Guild at the weekend said it was ready to negotiate an end the walkout hitting Air India, which is facing problems due to rising fuel prices, competition from low-cost rivals and a record of labour disputes.

The government last month cleared a $5.75-billion bailout package to help cash-strapped Air India, which has an $8.3 billion debt.