Air India on Tuesday sacked 10 pilots who went on mass sick leave protesting against the airline providing Boeing-787 Dreamliner training to pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines and derecognised the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG).
"We have sacked 10 pilots who are first officers. IPG has been derecognised and its Mumbai office will be seized," a senior Air India official told IANS, adding that the pilots were from New Delhi and Mumbai.
"We have sent doctors to the houses of pilots who have reported sick and are monitoring the situation closely. Doctors will also provide us with an assessment report of the health of our pilots. No international flight operations have been affected in any way."
Sources said a 6 pm deadline had been set for the pilots to either return to duty or confirm their schedule roster failing which they would face disciplinary action.
The pilots' move has come at a critical juncture for the airline which is hoping to retrieve lost ground with the peak vacation season and has secured a whopping Rs 42,000 crore bailout package. The official admitted any strike in the given situation would worsen prospects of a turnaround.
"We are trying very hard to get out of the financial problems we are in. We have said again and again that we are willing to talk and discuss all issues. But going on mass sick leave to make a point will hurt the company bad. We have not set a deadline for the pilots to return. But we will not wait for this kind of action to permanently hurt the airline's image," said the official.
Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh slammed the agitation calling it illegal. "There are certain ways of even going on strike. The pilots may have grievances but they should have spoken to the management, to me and other well wishers."
"How can they (pilots) go on strike when Air India is on the path of recovery and when it is not out of the woods," he asked.
The mass sick leave began began midnight with around 100 pilots reporting 'sick', forcing the airline to cancel four international flights from Mumbai and New Delhi.
The pilots have also been demanding parity in pay and grade.
Earlier, the IPG had sought relief from Delhi High Court in the matter. The Court had upheld the contention that the erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots cannot be trained on the Dreamliner, but later the Supreme Court vacated the stay.
Currently, the first batch of pilot and crew members for the 787 is going on in Singapore. An aircraft like 787 requires around 10 pilots for operating a full day's schedule or a connecting long haul flight.
Air India had booked 27 Boeing 787s in 2006 in a mega deal for 68 aircraft from Boeing. The first of the 27 Boeing 787 aircraft which were ordered in 2006 for IPG cadre pilots before the merger in 2007 is expected to join the fleet at the end of the month.
Air India is only the third global airline after All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines to receive the fuel-efficient and eco-friendly aircraft.