Flights unaffected, but passengers face problems

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New Delhi, Mar 12: About 15,000 employees of the Airport Authority of India (AAI) today began a non-cooperation stir in 127 airports across the country against the government's decision to close the existing airports of Bangalore and Hyderabad.

However, officials claimed that flight operations have not been affected. The impact of the strike was least seen in Delhi and Mumbai airports as both the airports have already been privatised, officials said. ''The situation in Delhi is absolutely normal. We have a backup plan and have deployed more staff for cleaning and housekeeping operations,'' said Aniruddh Chatterjee, a spokesman of GMR-DIAL, which manages the airport operations in Delhi.

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The agitation began at midnight last night as talks between the employees and the Ministry of Civil Aviation failed after the Government refused to withdraw its decision to close the airports of Bangalore and Hyderabad, after the new airports become operational.

The AAI employees want the existing airport to continue operations.

Some of the agitating employees, mostly ground staff, fire fighters, cleaners and baggage handlers, staged a demonstration in front of the departure terminal of the IGI airport this morning, shouting slogans against the government and the management.

President of the Airport Authority Employees Union, IGIA Harpal Singh said, ''We will continue with our indefinite agitation till our demands are met.'' The Delhi government has promulgated the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) at the IGI airport to ensure its smooth functioning.

Indian Air Force personnel have been deployed at various airports to help maintain operations. They were aiding the airport authorities in marshalling flights, in ground operations and safety services.

Sudip Ranjan, a passenger at the IGI airport said though the flight operations may not be affected but the passengers have been inconvenienced a lot because of the strike. ''As the aero bridges were not operating, the airlines were using manual laddars, and this is posing a lot of inconvenience to senior citizens and people with health problems,'' he said.

In communist ruled West Bengal, Air Traffic Control sources said, There has not been any diversion of flights and no overflying flights had been affected either at the Dum dum airport.'' However, passengers complained that since the conveyor belt that carried registered baggage for passengers remained inoperative, it added to their difficulties.

AAEU supporters squatted in front of the national airport division building as a part of their demonstration.

In Chennai, airport officials said all the flights, including international and domestic were operating as per the schedule time.

The State Government and IAF have deployed their fire service personnel in view of the fire services personnel of AAI supporting the stir.

In Hyderabad, Begumpet AAI Director R K Singla said ''about 250 airport employees are participating in the strike.

However, flight operations are unaffected. All the flights are arriving and departing at scheduled time.'' Manpower was requisitioned from outside to handle the Fire Services, the only wing that was expected to be hit by the strike.

A report from Tiruchirapalli said the striking employees staged a dharna in front of the airport in protest against the Centre's move to privatise the airports at Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Airlines officials have advised all passengers, taking flights during the strike period, to carry only light baggage and preferably hand baggage. Even the cleaning staff of the airport remained absent during the strike.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation had yesterday issued a notification confirming the closure of commercial operations from Begumpet Airport and commencement of operations at Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad from March 16.

UNI

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