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Air India strike is over, official says

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
  • NEW: Air India strike is over, officials say
  • Thousands of Air India passengers were stranded Wednesday
  • At least 13,500 passengers were affected
  • Strike came at a bad time for the beleaguered airline facing major losses

New Dehli, India (CNN) -- A strike against Air India that stranded thousands of passengers Wednesday ended hours later when union officials called it off.

Air India head Arvind Jadhav said the union called off the strike Wednesday evening, and airline operations should return to normal within two days.

Union leader Dinakar Shetty said the strike was called off after the intervention of the labor commissioner to end the deadlock between the employees and the management. Shetty said his union has asked all striking staff to report back to duty.

Air India spokesman K. Swaminathan told CNN that at least 13,500 passengers were affected as about 135 round-trip flights, including international ones, were canceled Wednesday.

The strike at the loss-ridden state-run carrier began Tuesday in the wake of the company using a private engineer to certify a relief plane flying to Mangalore in southern India, the scene of the crash of an Air India flight from Dubai on Saturday that killed 158 people on board.

Some staff objected to the company taking the services of an engineer from another airline, Swaminathan said. He insisted Air India compromised no rules and that it has relevant permissions to outsource engineers where it has none of its own to certify some select types of aircraft.

Shetty, a leader of the airline's Air Corporation Flight Union, alleged that the company had issued notices to two of its members over their media interactions.

"This is democracy. We have every right to express our views," he said.

Jadhav, the airline chief, acknowledged that management fired some employees. He said the airline welcomed employees voicing their grievances through set mechanisms and without compromising discipline and customer service.

The strike came at a bad time for the beleaguered airline. India's civil aviation minister Praful Patel told parliament two months ago that Air India's losses could run into 54 billion rupees, or $1.1 billion, for 2009-10.

"The trend of losses is likely to continue for few more years," he said in March.

A turnaround plan devised to ease Air India's financial crisis focuses on fleet and manpower rationalization, route profitability and structural changes. Additional measures to cut costs, including wage rationalization and other expenses, are also part of the turnaround process, Patel said.