New Delhi/Mumbai, May 12 (IANS) The agitating pilots of Air India Saturday said they are willing to hold unconditional talks with the government to end the impasse caused by their five-day strike, but claimed the management is not keen to listen to their demands.
'We have written to them (management) several times in the past, letting them know of our demands. We are very willing to hold talks, discussions with the government, with the management. We also want to save Air India,' said Jitendra Awhad, president of Indian Pilots Guild (IPG).
'We have not put any pre-conditions for holding talks. But we are saddened over the fact that the government, the management can hold talks, make deals with the agitators from the other union (Indian Commercial Pilots Association) when they went on strike three months ago, but can't do the same with us,' said Awhad.
The agitating pilots have also approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seeking his intervention on demands which are deemed by senior members of the protesting aviators' community as 'genuine.'
Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh had earlier said that the pilots first need to come back and join work before any talks with them could be started.
'If they want to talk, they should come to work, and all issues can be discussed... We are going to take a long-term view,' Ajit Singh had said.
Singh Friday also informed the prime minister about the efforts that are being made to resolve the crisis.
The pilots' protest continued for the fifth consecutive day Saturday, forcing the management to cancel 14 flights and re-scheduling many others. The carrier's low-cost subsidiary, Air India Express, also cancelled six flights.
'Fourteen flights have been cancelled and some may be rescheduled on domestic routes. We are monitoring the situation on an hourly basis and informing the passengers in advance,' a senior Air India official told IANS.
'We have plans to bring in executive and reserve pilots to operate the flights. We also have plans to wet-lease at least four-five aircraft to operate on the affected routes,' the official said.
The airline has stopped bookings on some of its ultra long-haul routes till May 15, effectively cancelling more than 15 flights per day on major sectors like the US, Europe to the west, and other destinations like Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore to the east.
These developments have come even as the airline said it is working on a contingency plan to salvage its international operations.
'We are working on a plan. This involves operating a bare minimum number of flights on the international sector. This plan may come into effect from early next week,' the official said.
Air India also has grounded the bulk of its 17-aircraft Boeing-777 fleet.
The airline is losing an estimated Rs.10 crore for every day of the pilots' strike. Maintaining the grounded aircraft would further add to its expenditure.
The airline has sacked 71 pilots in five days since the agitation began Tuesday and derecognised their union - the IPG. It has also asked aviation regulator Directorate General Of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to cancel the pilots' flying licenses.
The trouble started for the airline Tuesday when pilots belonging to the IPG took mass sick leave protesting the airline's move to provide Boeing-787 Dreamliner conversion training to pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines.
The airline has also moved petitions in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court. The apex court will hear the petition along with special leave petition (SLP) filed earlier by the ICPA, the union of erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots.