The government made it clear on Saturday that there can be no talks with the striking Air India (AI) pilots till they call off their “illegal” strike and apologise to passengers.
“The first priority must be to make sure the passengers feel they are being listened to… Ask for forgiveness from passengers… We can talk on anything after that,” civil aviation minister Ajit Singh said.
Leaders of the derecognised Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), now on the defensive with the aviation ministry having sacked 71 pilots so far, said they were willing to hold talks without any pre-condition to resolve the matter.
Also, the aviation regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), issued showcause notices to the 11 pilots whose flying licences AI has asked to be cancelled.
The DGCA could take action against them as early as Monday.
The agitating pilots, however, received support from some of the airline’s management pilots, who wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday, terming the pilots’ demands as “genuine”. The situation can worsen if the management pilots, too, join the stir.
But former aviation minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy – who himself is a pilot with a private airline – extended support to the government, saying, “The argument being given by the pilots is bizarre”.
A meeting called by Singh with two of his predecessors, Rudy and Shahnawaz Hussain – both from the BJP – did not take place on Saturday and is likely to be held on Sunday. The government, sources said, was building political consensus before taking harsher steps.
Meanwhile, Air Corporations Employees Union, the largest AI union with 17,000 members, said, “Our Pilot colleagues should understand that this company has given them a lavish lifestyle, fat pay cheque and huge goodwill … Big salary also comes with big responsibility.”