An Air India domestic flight takes off from Sardar Vallabhbhai Airport in Ahmedabad
A union said Saturday it was ready for unconditional talks to end a five-day walkout by pilots of national carrier Air India, as the airline fired 25 more strikers and cancelled more flights.
Some 200 pilots from the debt-laden airline, which is facing mounting problems due to rising fuel prices, competition from low-cost rivals and a record of labour disputes, have been on strike since late Monday.
The pilots are protesting against former Indian Airlines pilots, who moved to Air India when the two state-run companies merged in 2007, being trained for new Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplanes.
They say the plan threatens their career advancement prospects.
Indian Pilots Guild union spokesman Tauseef Mukadam told reporters in financial hub Mumbai that the union was \"willing to talk to them (management) without any pre-conditions.\"
But Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said the pilots needed to resume flying before any discussions were held.
\"Ask for forgiveness from the passengers. Start the flights,\" Singh told reporters in the capital New Delhi. \"We can talk on anything after that.\"
But the pilots\' union said that it was impossible for striking pilots who had been sacked -- now totalling 71 after Saturday\'s dismissal -- to return to work.
\"Some of our workers are not being allowed inside the office premises. How do we work? Either all of us go back to work or none can work,\" Mukadam said.
Another 16 flights were cancelled Saturday, including international flights and domestic legs of international flights. The strike has forced the airline to stop taking new international bookings until at least next Tuesday.
The government last month cleared a $5.75-billion bailout package to help the carrier which has an $8.3 billion debt.