The state-owned Air India (AI) airline has fired 25 more pilots for failing to show up to work as a strike by the national carrier enters its fourth day, leading to at least 12 more cancelled flights around the world on Friday.

The number of sacked pilots has now jumped to 71, with the airline actually asking the government’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation to cancel the fired pilots' licenses.

About 250 AI pilots remain on strike, having called in sick since Monday.

At the heart of the pilot’s grievances is how the government has been favorably treating Indian Airlines (IA), the state-owned domestic carrier, which merged with AI in 2007. IA pilots are being trained to fly the new Boeing Dreamliner aircraft that the government bought, instead of the AI personnel. The AI pilots union believes this development will endanger their jobs when the Dreamliner joins the national fleet later in May.

AI pilots also complained that management has failed to grant them promotions and pay increases that are due them.

The crisis has led Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh to urge the striking pilots to return to the job.

I updated [Prime Minister Manmohan Singh] on [the] latest developments,” Ajit Singh told reporters on Friday.

To save Air India, we need the co-operation of employees as it is their company. If Air India would not survive, there is no meaning of the issues they are raising. Unions need to understand this. If they [union] want to talk, they should come to work, and all issues can be discussed.

The pilots union remains defiant despite the terminated workers and a ruling by the Delhi High Court that the strike is illegal.

However, the Supreme Court has advised management to work out its differences with the pilots, in place of filing a contempt charge against the union.
We have always been willing to talk,” Ajit Singh said. “However, we maintain that there is no need for the pilots to undertake an illegal strike.”

Ajit Singh went to explain that it is the airline itself which is sick (having received billions of rupees in cash injections while it keeps losing market share) not the pilots.

The main problem is how to make Air India stand on its feet...how to make it profitable” he said. “And in that effort, all employees and all their unions will have to co-operate. Otherwise it (Air India) will not stay afloat. [The pilots] have to realize that if they do not rise above their personal interest, Air India will sink and with that all of them will sink.”

Indeed, earlier this month, Ajit Singh warned parliament that India’s airlines lost a combined $2 billion over the past financial year, while independent analysts estimate the loss at $2.5 billion.

In April, the government said it would pump almost $6 billion into Air India by 2020 to help keep it afloat.