In a crackdown, Air India on Tuesday acked 10 agitating pilots, de-recognised their union and sealed its offices as around 160 of them failed to join duty, leading to cancellation of five international flights since midnight.

With Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh terming their agitation “illegal”, airline sources said more severe action was to follow if the pilots did not get back to work by 6 p.m. today.

Flights on Delhi-Toronto, Delhi-Chicago, Mumbai-Newark and Mumbai-Hong Kong via Delhi sectors were cancelled “due to unavailability of pilots,” an Air India spokesperson said.

With about 160 pilots not having joined duty, the services of at least 10 pilots, including office bearers of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), which is leading the agitation, were terminated, the sources said.

While the IPG has been de-recognised, the sources said its offices in Mumbai and Delhi were sealed.

A section of Air India pilots owing allegiance IPG are agitating over the rescheduling of Boeing 787 Dreamliner training and matters relating to their career progression.

The Civil Aviation Minister termed the strike as “illegal” and said the management of the national carrier would take appropriate action against those involved in the stir.

“They are reporting sick. They have not given any notice for any strike. So whatever the Air India management rules and regulations, action will be taken accordingly,” Mr. Singh told reporters.

“The pilots have been told to return to work by today evening. And if they don’t, the management will take stern action against them,” the Air India spokesperson said.

The airline management has also started sending doctors to the houses of pilots who were reporting sick, the sources said.

Meanwhile, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-backed pilots’ body has said that it is open to negotiations with the management.

“We are open to negotiations at any given time,” Indian Pilots Guild president and NCP leader Jitendra Awhad told PTI.

The Civil Aviation Minister said the pilots went on sick leave in the midst of their talks with the management of Air India which has led to cancellation of flights.

Noting that Air India is currently going through a turbulent period and crores of rupees of public money were being infused to run the carrier, Mr. Singh said this was not the right time for such protests.

Agreeing that every section of employees had grievances and there were ways to find a solution, the Minister said the “strike is illegal.”

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