Air-India on Sunday suspended 15 more agitating pilots for refusing to operate and abandoning flights at various destinations in view of the SARS outbreak, taking the total number of suspensions so far to 27.
The suspension is with immediate effect pending an inquiry into their conduct, A-I sources in Mumbai said.
A-I had on Saturday suspended 12 pilots for refusing to operate flights at New York, Paris and Mumbai over the past few days.
The Indian Pilot Guild's 200 members went on a strike after refusing to fly to SARS-hit areas unless the management certified that the crew had not visited a SARS-hit area in the last 10 days.
But there are indications that the pilots are also demanding additional pay.
Toughening its stand against striking A-I pilots, the government on Sunday asked them to withdraw their stir unconditionally and said action would be taken against all those who refuse to fly.
"The government is quite determined that they (striking pilots) withdraw their instructions unconditionally and fly," Civil Aviation Secretary and Air India chairman K Roy Paul told a TV channel in Delhi.
All their demands would be considered only after they withdrew their strike, he said.
He said the demand of health certificates for co-crew members was not negotiable. "It is absurd, illogical and irrational."
According to A-I sources, a total of 56 pilots owing allegiance to the Indian Pilots Guild are facing disciplinary action.
Meanwhile, A-I is taking on contract some retired pilots, who still hold valid licenses, to augment the strength of its executive pilots, who number around 160.
"We have identified five retired commanders -- four for Boeing 747 and one for Airbus 310 -- so far and are issuing them letters to take them on contract subject to them being medically fit," an A-I spokesperson said in Mumbai.
They would undergo the necessary simulator training and flight checks before being deployed on flights, he said.
At the same time, the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has relaxed for A-I pilots flying time and duty time limitations (FDTL)by one and two hours, respectively as a special case in view of the present situation.
The regulatory body has told A-I that the extra flying time from nine to 10 hours and duty time from 12 to 14 hours has been allowed provided there is pro-rata increase in the rest period.
This step has invited strong protests from the IPG, which said it would challenge the order in the Mumbai High Court on Monday.
Stating that the DGCA order will enable A-I optimum utilisation of pilots, the A-I spokesman said, "This (going to the court) is understandable as all actions of the IPG are aimed at disrupting flight schedules. They must realise that A-I is equally determined to foil their attempts and keep the services going."
Reacting to IPG's assertion that they had not put forward any financial demand, the spokesman in Mumbai said, "We would like a written communication from the guild that they have no such demand and that they are willing to undergo CAT III training. This is the minimum they can do to prove their point."
The spokesman had on Saturday said that the IPG was demanding $35 per hour flying allowance for all pilots in view of the CAT III landing instrument installed in Delhi, irrespective of whether they fly to Delhi or not.