Lucknow/New Delhi:  As the strike by Air India pilots entered the 12th day, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh on Saturday promised action in two months on a report which dealt with some of their problems and renewed his appeal to them to return to work.

The fresh appeal came even as flights of the state-owned airline's subsidiary AI Express continued to be affected, though not severely. The airline's curtailed international flight schedules, however, operated normally, official sources said.

"Dharmadhikari report(on AI merger) has come and it will be implemented in two months after having talks with them. Therefore at this time I will again appeal them to come back to work," Ajit said while talking to the reporters after inaugurating a new terminal in Lucknow.

"We are making efforts to resolve the situation...I will appeal to the pilots that they should think about the passengers," he said. The stir has already cost the ailing national carrier Rs 200 crore.

The report is stated to have made suggestions like allowing pilots of AI and IA to be cross-utilized for all aircraft in the merged airline's fleet, while having different seniority criteria for them. It also reportedly suggested bringing about pay parity between employees of the now merged AI and Indian Airlines. The minister pointed out that the strike by AI pilots has been declared illegal by the High Court.

"Whatever problems they have...when Dharmadhikari report would be discussed talks will be held on all those problems, then there is no reason that they are observing strike," Ajit said.

"They should come back on work..whatever their problems are..whatever their demands are, they all will be considered."

The minister said his objective was to revive Air India. An average of six AI Express flights were being cancelled daily, but there was not much of a problem as the stranded passengers were being transferred to regular flights of the parent company to the Gulf and Southeast Asia, official sources said.

With Ajit Singh offering unconditional talks once the striking pilots resumed duty, the Indian Pilots Guild has said it was ready to negotiate if the sack orders of 71 pilots were revoked.

But official sources maintained it would be difficult to take back the IPG office-bearers or restore recognition to their union, noting that the courts had also declared the strike illegal.

"The government has given a package of Rs 30,000 crore for the revival of AI, but money alone would not make difference it has to be competitive with the rest of the industry and for this it has to pay attention on its cost," Ajit said.

He said AI's credibility, which was improving in the last three months, suffered a dent due to the ongoing stir.

"There is a hitch among the passengers in taking tickets as whether the flights will come or not or what..this I am talking about the international," he said.

The minister said that whatever problems pilots have they should come forward and discuss.

"But by creating loss to AI or causing inconvenience to the passengers, if what they want is talks then this is not possible now," he added..

"The government will not adopt any policy to victimize them and whatever problems they have will be discussed."

"We have said it repeatedly and I have said even in the Parliament that the pilots should come back to work and there will be no victimisation by the government," he said when asked about reinstating sacked pilots.

"The court has said twice - once by a single bench and then by a division bench, that the strike is illegal, they (pilots) must abide by the law," he said.

He said the government has given a Rs 30,000 crore package and it was not in a situation to give any more from the public money.

"Credibility of the airline was improving in the last three months, its revenue increased by 35 percent and yield also increased and all this has been dented," he said.

He said it was the question of the survival of the airlines.

"If the airline does not survive then there is no meaning of other things like salary, promotion or increment," he said.

Asked about the financial problems being faced by the aviation sector, Ajit Singh said cost of ATF with taxes in India was 40 to 50 percent, whereas in foreign countries it was 30 to 35 percent.

The agitation has led the ailing national carrier to drastically curtail its international flight operations, particularly those to North America and Europe, with airline officials saying the restricted schedule was in operation and there has been no cancellation in the past two days.

While international operations garner 64 percent of Air India's revenues, almost 80 percent of its operational losses also come from these operations.

With over 200 pilots reporting 'sick' during the past 12 days, IAF medical facilities in various parts of the country, including Bangalore, Delhi and Jorhat, have been beefed up to conduct their full check-up by medical boards after they complete 14 consecutive days of remaining 'sick'.

The rules laid down to retain their flying licenses say that if a cockpit crew remains sick for a two weeks, he or she has to undergo a thorough medical check-up by a medical board.

Though the 14-day deadline expires on Monday, but several agitating pilots started reporting sick in a few days after the stir began on May eight.

The airline, which has sent doctors to the homes of all pilots who have reported sick, has prepared medical records on each one of them and their health. If these pilots are found medically fit by the medical board, they would have to join duty immediately, the sources said, expressing hope that the agitators would resume work in the next couple of days.

Ajit Singh has convened a meeting of all recognized trade unions of Air India on Monday to discuss issues relating to career progression and pay-scales.


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