Air India's striking pilots may call off their 25-day-old strike Friday, NDTV reported quoting unofficial sources.

The striking pilots have been holding out for a formal assurance from the government that the sacked pilots should be taken back to halt the strike. However, the government has maintained that the pilots should stop their strike unconditionally and resume work before negotiations can begin.

The Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), which is spearheading the agitation, had been holding informal talks with Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, who had given them verbal assurance that the sacked pilots would be taken back, NDTV reported sources as saying.

The striking pilots, who suffered a set back when the Delhi High Court declared their strike illegal, were keen to arrive at a face-saving solution to stop the strike, the channel reported.

The report also said that a section of pilots in the IPG would resume work if they got an informal assurance from the Aviation Minister that the 101 sacked pilots would be reinstated immediately.

Air India Implements Interim Plan

Air India is currently operating on a contingency plan after more than 300 of its pilots reported sick, agitating against disparity in career progression and pay scales between them and erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots.

Indian Airlines merged with Air India in 2007, in a move intended to strengthen the state run carriers. However staff from both the carriers fell out over pay and promotion disparities, crippling the operations of the carrier.

The strike has caused a loss of more than Rs 3.3 billion to the national carrier, which is reeling under a debt burden of Rs 430 billion.

Air India's operations have been seriously affected by the strike and the national carrier, in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, has shifted to an interim plan from June 1 onwards.

The state-run carrier has rationalized its international operations by dropping seven more services from its international operations. Schedules to Hong Kong, Osaka, Seoul and Toronto are also dropped and airline will now operate only 38 services. 

We have finished work on our interim plan and it will be implemented from June 1. Under the new plan, several destinations where the load factors are quite low might be dropped for the time being, an Air India official told IANS.

The management said it hoped to cut down the costs and normalize its schedules with the interim plan.  We expect to stabilize our operations and cut the losses to less than Rs. 50 million a day from June 2, Air India official added.

Air India Plans to Recruit Foreign Pilots

In another development, Air India was planning to rope in foreign pilots sacked by Jet Airways to address the pilots' shortage, the ET reported.

Air India seeks to operate a small international schedule from now on with the help of 200 pilots, for which it is looking to hire 50-60 expats sacked by Jet Airways recently, a senior official in the Civil Aviation Ministry told ET.

Jet Airways sacked 72 foreign pilots in a cost saving measure and hired local pilots, who were sourced from another debt-laden private carrier - Kingfisher Airlines. The foreign pilots' salaries are much higher than those of the local pilots. The near-bankruptcy of Kingfisher airlines has prompted its crew to hunt for better opportunities en masse.

Normalizing the operations are crucial for the debt-laden air carrier to meet the operation milestones set by the government as a condition to avail a Rs 300-billion bailout package.