New Delhi: Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh on Friday told the striking pilots of Air India that if the 18-day-old strike would not end, the airline may begin hiring new pilots.
"We are not waiting for them, (we) can even begin hiring new pilots," said the minister after meeting some of the striking pilots.
"I have told them my stand, now they need to think," Singh said.
"We are now flying half the international routes. And we are making a new business plan. If I have to hire new pilots, I will do that," he said.
Ajit Singh made it clear that the pilots he met came in their individual capacity since the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), which is at the heart of the current Air India crisis, has been de-recognized.
He reiterated to the pilots that while the government was ready to pore over their demands, the pilots would have to first call off the "illegal strike".
A senior official earlier said that some of the pilots who called on Ajit Singh wanted to rejoin duty "and said they were ready to cooperate and discuss all outstanding issues".
"They requested the minister to give them a fair chance to explain their stand," the official said.
Ajit Singh reportedly advised the pilots to rejoin duty immediately after going through the mandatory guidelines and said no one will be victimised.
"The minister said he is willing to discuss all their issues after they join back," said the official.
The strike by IPG members entered the 18th day on Friday. The strike by over 400 pilots has crippled Air India's international operations, costing it some INR 280 crore in revenue.
The IPG said that it had also offered to meet Ajit Singh and it would end the strike when the 101 sacked pilots are reinstated.
"We sent a letter yesterday (Thursday) to the minister seeking a meeting with him so that we can explain our situation to him personally. But till now we have not received any invite," said Rohit Kapahi IPG.
"We want a chance to put across our views to him in a fair and transparent manner so that we can find a way to end the impasse," he added.
The letter, sent to Singh on behalf of IPG general secretary E A Kapadia, said, "An earnest dialogue will help resolve all issues in the interest of the country, the airline and its employees."
The IPG pointed out that despite the strike, it had asked a pilot to go to Seattle on May 25 to take delivery of the new aircraft joining the Air India fleet.