Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh Thursday called all Air India unions for talks next week in a bid to end the 10-day pilots' strike that has seen the airline's losses mounting to Rs.188 crore.
In another development, the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) suffered a setback with the Delhi High Court refusing to entertain its plea challenging the court's earlier order restraining the pilots from going on an "illegal strike."
A division bench of teh high court said that contempt proceedings should be started against the pilots.
The minister's invitation to the unions came amid reports of cracks in the pilots' unity. Singh said he would discuss with the unions all outstanding issues such as pay parity and promotion.
Air India is losing Rs.13 crore every day. "We have lost about Rs.188 crore due to ticket cancellations, unused labour and with a bulk of our Boeing-777 fleet grounded," a senior official of Air India's operations arm told IANS.
Facing 10 days of strike by 400 pilots, the carrier's share in the domestic market has meanwhile slid to fourth position, after SpiceJet, Jet Airways and IndiGo.
The carrier is currently operating under the so-called contingency plan. "We are operating a bare minimum number of international operations by clubbing flights to destinations in Europe and the US," the official said.
The airline has deployed the Airbus family of aircraft such as A320, A321 and A330 on international routes.
It is only operating eight of its 17 Boeing-777 aircraft which are normally manned by the striking pilots belonging to Indian Pilots Guild (IPG).
The carrier's low-cost international wing, Air India Express, is also facing the brunt of the agitation. The strike and the subsequent flight cancellations by the airline have disrupted holiday and other travel plans of hundreds of people.
The pilots had earlier said they were open to talks. But the government has not yet accepted the offer, insisiting that there would be no negotiations unless the pilots returned to work.
The pilots have made four demands which include exclusive flying right on Boeing 787 aircraft, payment of arrears from 2007 onwards, travel on first class when not working, and the right to be promoted as commanders within six years.
Trouble started for the airline May 8 when pilot-members of the IPG took mass sick leave protesting the move to provide Boeing-787 Dreamliner training to pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines.