KARACHI - The row between Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (Palpa) continued on the third day with over 55 flights cancelled, affecting thousands of domestic and international passengers.

The issue that started after suspension of two pilots’ licences by Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority has deepened, causing agony for the passengers who have paid money to the national carrier to reach their destinations. Among the affected are pilgrims returning home after performing haj.

About 55 flights have so far been cancelled, affecting more than 5,000 passengers in last three days, said a PIA spokesperson in a statement.

Holding Palpa responsible for the misery caused to the pilgrims, including those injured in Mina stampede, he said the pilots’ body has shown irresponsible attitude at the crucial time. He also accused the pilots of blackmailing the national flag carrier management.

He however claimed the airline operated 95 percent of its flights yesterday on time, adding efforts were being made to complete the post-haj flight operation and bring the injured pilgrims back at the earliest.

The spokesperson revealed Karachi-to-Lahore and Lahore-to-Quetta flights were cancelled after two more pilots refused to operate flights on the pressure of Palpa while another flight, Karachi to Peshawar, was delayed. Terming the strike illegal, he asked the pilots association to end the strike.

The clash between PIA and Palpa has landed passengers, including those at the foreign airports waiting to return homeland, in great trouble.

Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), on the directive of Special Assistant to PM on Aviation Shujaat Azeem, invited Palpa for talks.

Palpa executive committee decided to proceed to Islamabad on Sunday (today) to meet the Aviation Division officials. It however demanded the Aviation Division through a letter that a federal government official must be present in the meeting to act as a guarantor.

The Palpa team would discuss implementation of Palpa-PIAC agreement 2011-13, immediate withdrawal of all disciplinary proceedings against its member pilots, halt to ‘victimisation’ of its members, review of the National Aviation Policy, pension, training, medical, tickets and other outstanding matters.

As many as eight pilots have submitted their medical certificates and the CAA is checking their veracity.

PIA Chairman Nasir Jaffer questioned how eight pilots could fall ill simultaneously. “I cannot understand the reasons behind their protest as they have been demanding 100 percent increase in their salaries, which is not acceptable,” he added.

INP adds from Islamabad: PIA chairman said over a dozen pilots having refused to operate the flights on the pretext of illness would face legal action. “Civil Aviation Authority too has passed the buck to us,” he said.

A PIA spokesman said only four flights out of total 110 were cancelled on Saturday. Earlier, PM’s Adviser on Aviation Shujaat Azeem chaired a meeting to discuss the expected dialogue between the PIA management and Palpa, but the latter decided to boycott the rendezvous.