As the unofficial strike by Air India pilots entered its 12th day today, reports have emerged that the airline is willing to take back most of the 71 pilots it has sacked since the stir began on 7 May, provided they are prepared to resume flying duties.
The management and the civil aviation ministry have so far maintained that the sacked pilots would not be re-instated, unlike previous occasions – notably in May 2011, when the same number of pilots (71) were sacked for going on a similar strike by reporting 'sick' en masse; but almost all of them got their jobs back.
Now the ministry appears to have done a volte face on its earlier firm stand. However, it is clear that senior members of the Indian Pilots' Guild, de-recognised since the strike began, will not be taken back. In fact, the AI management has asked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to cancel the flying licences of 11 such pilots.
The olive branch to the sacked pilots smacks of desperation. The financially crippled national airline is flying largely on government life-support. Now with somewhere around 400 of its pilots 'sick', it is operating a greatly truncated and syncopated flight schedule. It has lost Rs200 crore since the strike began, according to official statements.
Air India's international flights are the hardest hit, as pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines (who are not part of the strike) are mostly trained for domestic flying.
The root of the current strike is the friction that has existed between AI and IA pilots ever since the two arms of the national carrier were merged in 2007. The now debarred guild represents pilots who were with AI before the merger.