New Delhi: As Air India mulled sacking 300 striking Air India pilots, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh on Monday said the management should take a call now on how long can the airline keep the defiant pilots on its payroll if they stayed away from work.

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With the 36-day-old strike showing no signs of being called off, the troubled national carrier meanwhile set up a committee to review its global operations to find out how many pilots are actually required to operate the international flights.

This committee would advise the management on the actual number of pilots needed to run Air India's international operations, airline officials said, adding it was felt that the carrier had far more pilots than it needed.

Singh also cautioned that "vulnerability" of the state-owned airline to even slightest irresponsible and agitational act of one or other section of the employees may lead to raising of eyebrows about its utility and necessity and infusion of public money to ensure the carrier's survival.

"It is for the Air India management to take action now. These pilots have not come to work for more than 30 days....It is an illegal strike,. They have defied the High Court."

"We have requested them again and again to come back to work. So, it is for the management to decide for how long can they keep them on their payroll when they are not working. And they have no intention of coming back," he said.

Singh cautioned about the vulnerability of Air India in a letter to the Executive pilots, whom he thanked for not letting Air India "falter during this difficult time".

He said that any hindrances and obstacles to the survival of the national carrier, through infusion of funds for Financial Restructuring Plan have "to be addressed appropriately by all of us collectively and by acting synergistically".

The Minister said each one of them holds the key to achieve success for survival and revival and to regain the lost glory by acheiving the specified benchmarks in a time bound manner.

Since the strike began on May 7, Air India has sacked 101 striking pilots and de-recognised the Indian Pilots' Guild which has been leading this agitation.

The Air India management is contemplating dismissing 300 pilots owing allegiance to IPG, according to sources.

(Agencies)

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