The government is considering to further curtail Air India's international operations, if a group of pilots continue their strike, which has already lasted for 11 days and has cost the airline a Rs.200 crore loss, officials said.
"There is a proposal to further curtail international operations if they (pilots) do not come back or if they are joined by the executive class of pilots. If we don't have pilots, how can we fly?" said a senior civil aviation ministry official.
The airline is already operating its international flights under a contingency plan through which it is clubbing flights to various destinations in the US and Europe.
According to the official, the agitating pilots, who are on a mass sick leave, are mandated to get a medical check-up done by doctors from the Indian Air Force after the completion of 14 days of their absence.
"Within two-three days, they will be checked by Indian Air Force doctors. If they clear it and are actually sick, then it is valid, but if they fail the test and come out to be absolutely fine, then either they can join back or resign," the official said.
"A country like India has enough potential to generate more pilots and if that is also not possible, then we can hire more commanders from the industry or abroad."
Defending his tough stand, the official said: "When talks are on offer and the airline is in a difficult position, is this the right time to go strike?"
Meanwhile, a senior official of Air India's operations arm told IANS: "Contingency plan is in place. We are operating a bare minimum number of international operations by clubbing flights to destinations in Europe and the US."
"We have lost about Rs.200 crore due to ticket cancellations, unused labour and with a bulk of our Boeing-777 fleet grounded. Our losses per day stand at Rs.13-15 crore," the airline official said.
According to the official, the airline has started a special scheme whereby passengers can advance, postpone or cancel their tickets without any extra charges till May 22.
The airline has deployed the Airbus family of aircraft such as A320, A321 and A330 for international routes.
It is only operating eight of its 17 Boeing-777 aircraft which are normally manned by the pilots belonging to Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), who are now on strike.
The development comes a day after Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh called all unions of the airline for talks next week and the Delhi High Court refused to entertain the Indian Pilots Guild's (IPG) plea challenging the court's earlier order restraining the pilots from going on an "illegal strike."
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.
The pilots have made four demands which include exclusive flying rights 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.