Air India is going to induct about 100 new pilots in the next few months, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said on Wednesday while virtually shutting the doors for striking pilots, asking those sacked to apply afresh.
Indicating that the 101 sacked pilots could be replaced by new ones, Singh said 90 pilots were currently undergoing training and would be available for flying in August.
"We're making sure we have enough resources - pilots and engineers to operate the new flights we have planned," he said in reply to a spate of questions on the month-long pilots' agitation spearheaded by the Indian Pilots Guild.
The striking pilots questioned the government's plan.
"We have serious doubts about ministry's move (to hire pilots). Whom do they want to benefit? At a time when the company is under severe financial crunch, can these new pilots be afforded at a salary which is double of ours?" Captain Anil Kumar Rao, Joint Secretary of IPG, told reporters after pilots staged silent marches in Delhi and Mumbai.
"Such a move by the ministry can jeopardise fight passenger safety. Hiring foreign pilots without study of their track records could lead to compromise with safety issue," he alleged.
"We appeal to the AI management to come forward and have a dialogue. We want to fly. But for that somebody from the management or the ministry should hear us," he said.
But after facing a loss of over Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) due to the strike in the peak holiday season, the government was in no mood to make any placatory moves.
On the contrary, a tough-talking Singh said the sacked pilots will have to apply fresh along with new pilots if they intend to get back.
"As far as we are concerned, the pilot's strike is over. If the (striking) pilots don't accept Dharmadhikari report which is part of the airline's turnaround plan, I don't think there is any point in their coming back... If terminated pilots want to come back, they will have to apply afresh," Singh said at a press conference convened to announce Air
India's new global operations plan.
Our Reporter, Onkar Singh, adds: India pilots' offer to hold conditional talks to end the 30-day-old strike has been rejected. Minister Singh said talks can be held with the pilots, but they have to be without any pre-condition.
"The Delhi high court has already termed the strike illegal and asked them to report to work and resume duty. The strike is one month old. The pilots have rejected Dharmadhikari report and its implementation to turn the organisation into a profitable venture thereby indicating that they do not want to report back," Singh told journalist during a press conference held at his office in Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan.
"We have prepared a roadmap for running the airlines. Some Thai pilots are being hired and will be given training. Advertisements would also be put in leading newspaper for pilots," the minister said.
The Dharmadhikari Committee, which submitted its report on January 31, has, among other things, made recommendations on crucial issues like principles of integration across various cadres, seniority and principles of pay rationalisation of the two erstwhile state-run airlines, issues that have been at the centre of the strike called by the Air India pilots.
The pilots are protesting the management's decision to let Indian Airlines' pilots train on advanced Boeing 787 aircraft, and are seeking new pay and career progression norms as well as parity with pilots of the Indian Airlines.
The Air India management has also derecognised the union, and a Mumbai High Court bench has dismissed a petition challenging that decision.
"You (IPG) may have problems but first comply with the Delhi High Court order. Then you can go sort out your issues. You cannot harass the general public like this," a vacation bench of justices SJ Kathawala and PD Kode said while hearing the IPG petition.
Meanwhile, Singh has unveiled new plans for international operations of strike-hit Air India including starting of two new flights to Kuala Lumpur and London and resuming of operations to Hong Kong, Osaka and Seoul by August 1, according to PTI.
The minister also announced that three Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft will be inducted this month, it said.
"For the initial six to eight weeks, the first aircraft will be used on domestic routes to enable trainees to practice landings and take-offs and the first long-haul flight of the aircraft will be in August between Mumbai and London and Australia operations will commence in August-September." Singh said.