The striking Air India (AI) pilots must return to work by midnight or face action, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said on Tuesday evening.
But he added the proposed pay cuts that had provoked the strike were also being put on hold till discussions had been held with the pilots.
“I hope the entire airline will come back to full operation from tomorrow, failing which the management will be free to take any decision it feels is necessary," said Patel.
Over 200 flights were cancelled on Tuesday as the strike entered its fourth day.
"I have no idea if my flight will take off," said Amitabh Sanduja, a senior hotel executive, who is booked on an AI flight to Colombo on Thursday.
AI has suspended fresh bookings till further notice.
Since Friday 157 executive pilots have been reporting sick in protest against the Septem-ber 24 order which announced that following the poor financial health of Air India, their performance linked incentives (PLIs) were being withdrawn.
Late in the evening, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel briefed the prime minister, who reportedly told Patel neither a strike nor a lock-out at Air India was acceptable.
Patel said the pilots had no reason to strike work any more as the proposed pay cut had been referred to a panel, which would consult them before taking a decision.
AI chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav dismissed talks of a lock-out. He said the airline had paid salaries till September and incentives would be paid by October 7.
Not so, the pilots said. "None of us received incentives after July," Captain V.K. Bhalla, who is leading the agitation, told HT.