New Delhi/Mumbai: On day nine of the stir by over 200 Air India pilots, three pilots resumed duty on Wednesday and the protesters said they were "open" to talks with the government to resolve the impasse.

The Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), which is spearheading the agitation, said in a statement it was "open to meeting with officials of the management and/or Ministry at any place at any time in order to resolve these issues and bring an end to the current impasse."

An AI spokesperson said, "Three sick pilots have resumed duty on Wednesday". The IPG claimed that they were not its members. The agitation has led to curtailment of the airline's international operations.

Even as it offered to get to the negotiating table, the IPG accused the airline management of providing "incorrect" inputs on their demands to Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh.

"The strike continues. .... We don't want pilots to be martyred," IPG president and NCP MLA Jitendra Ahwad said when asked whether they were willing to call off their agitation that has led to a revenue loss of over Rs 150 crore to the loss-making carrier besides causing inconvenience to passengers.

Hit by the pilots stir, the airline put into operation skeletal international services to Europe and North America as part of a contingency plan.

Singh has promised to hear the pilots' grievances unconditionally and appealed to them to return to work, saying they had the "last chance" to revive the "almost bankrupt" airline.

He has also assured them there would be no vindictive action if the striking pilots came for talks unconditionally.

Asked to comment on the ongoing stir, Heavy Industry Minister and senior NCP leader Praful Patel said, "it is unfair for me to comment on anything that is going on. All I can say is that the Aviation Minister's approach is right and I fully support the Minister for whatever steps he has taken and intends to take."

The pilots are also understood to have approached senior CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, who also heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture that covers all issues relating to Air India.

On the Minister's statement in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the IPG said it had been "apprehensive of the role played by a section of Air India management in providing an incomplete, incorrect and distorted picture to the Hon’ble Aviation Minister.

"The details provided regarding demands of the pilots in Parliament by the Hon’ble Minister was based on this incorrect information provided to him."

The airline has already sacked 71 striking pilots, who have been protesting against rescheduling of training programme of Dreamliner and issues related to their career progression.

Regarding Singh's statement that the agitating pilots wanted exclusive rights to fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, the IPG said the Supreme Court's observations showed that the training programme of 50:50 ratio of pilots from erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India was subject to the final outcome of the petition filed by the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA).

Earlier, the IPG leaders had asked the government to at least initiate preliminary talks to break the deadlock. "The government should at least being preliminary talks. We are ready for talks but they should formally invite us for talks to resolve the issue," Ahwad said.

Besides demanding career progression, the striking pilots are also demanding a clear cut HR integration policy for an effective merger, which is the bone of contention between the erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India employees.

The decision to merge the two carriers, which the Civil Aviation Minister has termed as a "failure", had also drawn flak from the CAG and parliamentary panels.

Several of the Air India unions have in the past sought independent probe into the merger to fix responsibility and accountability, saying that it has only led to losses and decline in market share.

Meanwhile, the airline curtailed and clubbed many of its flights to the US and Europe to stabilise international operations.

The national carrier operated Delhi-Paris-New York (JFK), Delhi-Frankfurt-Chicago flights, apart from those on Delhi- Shanghai and Delhi-London routes.

"We have merged Mumbai-London and Mumbai-Shanghai flights with the Delhi-London and Delhi-Shanghai flights. We are operating these flights with Boeing 777 ER aircraft so we won't have problem accommodating the passengers," an airline official said, adding this will bring relief to many of our passengers who were anxious about their flights status.

Most of our passengers are those who have booked tickets months ago for their journey, he said, adding if situation permits then we may open our bookings for our ultra-long flights, which have been suspended till Thursday.

"We have deployed Airbus 320 aircraft for our short haul flights to Bangkok, Singapore and other destinations," he said.

(Agencies)

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