Virtually shutting the doors on the striking Air India pilots, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh today said the sacked cockpit crew could return only if they applied afresh when new pilots are inducted.

“As far as we are concerned, the pilot’s strike is over. If the (striking) pilots don’t accept Dharmadhikari report which is part of the airline’s turnaround plan, I don’t think there is any point in their coming back....If terminated pilots want to come back, they will have to apply afresh,” Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told reporters in New Delhi.

His comments came on the 30th day of the agitation when the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) members staged silent marches in Delhi and Mumbai to press for their demands relating to career progression, apart from reinstatement of their 101 sacked colleagues and recognition of their union.

Indicating that the sacked pilots could be replaced by new ones, Mr. Singh said 90 pilots were currently undergoing training and would be available for flying in August.

“We’re making sure we have enough resources — pilots and engineers to operate the new flights we have planned,” he said in reply to a spate of questions on the pilots’ strike.

“They (pilots) have decided not to come back. They have trashed the Dharmadhikari Report” which recommended several steps for integration of the staff of the two erstwhile airlines post their 2007 merger, he said.

“Our stand is that the strike is illegal. The High Court has also said it. They also did not give notice (for the strike)... They are still welcome if they want to come back, but there should be no pre-condition,” Mr. Singh said.

International operations to get boost

Mr. Singh unveiled new plans for international operations of Air India, including starting of two new flights to Kuala Lumpur and London and resuming operations to Hong Kong, Osaka and Seoul by August 1.

The Minister also announced that three Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircrafts will be inducted into the fleet this month.

“For the initial six to eight weeks, the first aircraft will be used on domestic routes to enable trainees to practice landings and take-offs and the first long-haul flight of the aircraft will be in August between Mumbai and London and Australia operations will commence in August-September.” Mr. Singh told a press conference.

Regarding the issue of compensation being sought by the national carrier from Boeing for delay in delivery of the B--787s, Mr. Singh said the airline Board had moved a proposal after talking to the U.S. manufacturer. “It will come up before the CCEA (Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs) soon.”

Asked whether the government wanted to privatise or sell off Air India now or at a later date, he said, “At present, there is no such proposal and we are not considering it.”

On AI’s new global flight plan, he said it included starting of a new flight to Kuala Lumpur, using the B-787 on Mumbai-London sector from August one and launching of Australia operations from August-September with these new planes.

“By November (when winter schedule begins), Air India’s international operations will be further expanded. With this, the entire original Air India network of 27 stations shall not only be fully restored, but expanded also,” he said.

Flights to Hong Kong, Osaka, Toronto and Seoul, stopped when the strike began, would be restored over the next few months. Hong Kong would be connected by a narrow-body Airbus A-319 from July and this service would be extended to Osaka and Seoul from August one, Mr. Singh said.