Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh warned on Friday that Air India would hire new pilots if the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) did not end its strike soon.

At a meeting with five pilots owing allegiance to the IPG, Mr. Singh made it clear that the strike, if it continued, was likely to impact the payment of wage arrears to all employees by June, as promised by the government. “We can think of hiring new pilots,” he said. Air India Chairman and Managing Director Rohit Nandan joined the 90-minute meeting at the fag end.

The IPG, which has been at loggerheads with the management over its decision to let the erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots undergo training to fly Boeing 787 Dreamliner, is holding consultations with legal experts to decide on its course of action. It has been insisting on the reinstatement of 101 dismissed pilots and a solution to issues relating to their career growth.

Officials said Mr. Singh told the pilots there would be no victimisation, if they resumed duty without any further delay. He reiterated the government's stand that the strike was illegal and said it caused passengers untold miseries and cost Air India much.

Mr. Singh said the pilots started the strike without notifying the management and reported sick when they were not. The strike has so far cost Air India Rs. 300 crore and forced it to operate 38 international flights instead of the 45 scheduled services. The carrier has said the contingency plan will be in force till June 30.

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