In yet another indication that Air India may not reinstate the 350 pilots who have been on a strike over the last month, civil aviation minister Ajit Singh told HT: "Air India has to be a lean and mean operation, or it will not turn around."
He added, tantalisingly: "How long can you keep the pilots on the rolls, when they haven't shown up for work for over a month?"
But he refused to comment directly on whether or not the striking pilots would be sacked.
"The final decision will be taken by the Air India CMD when he returns from Beijing on Wednesday," he said.
Singh had, in an interview to HT last month, maintained that it would be very difficult to reinstate the pilots who reported sick and refused to resume work even after the Delhi high court termed their strike "illegal".
Sources in the ministry revealed that the strike, which has been going on for 35 days now, has actually given the government a chance to review the ailing airline's prospects.
Singh has set up a committee to analyse why the national carrier is losing money on all routes except two.
He has also set up a task force to 'rationalise costs'.
A senior official in the ministry said: "Air India pilots are paid 50% more than the industry average and we are now asking the question: why do we need to reinstate these pilots when we have been able to operate 38 out of 45 sectors through the strike?"
Air India has already advertised for fresh recruitments and has also inducted 90 trainee pilots.