Air India, pilots to start talks this week

India's state-run flagship carrier Air India is to start "conciliatory" talks with pilots this week after they ended a near two-month strike, the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) said Wednesday.

The pilots Tuesday agreed to end the strike -- the longest for the airline in nearly four decades -- after Air India told the Delhi High Court it would consider their grievances "sympathetically".

The two parties will meet Friday, the IPG said.

More than 400 pilots went on strike in May to protest against former Indian Airlines pilots, who moved to Air India when the carriers merged in 2007, being trained for new Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes.

They said the plan threatened their career advancement prospects.

Air India reacted to the strike by sacking 101 of the 440 pilots and de-recognising the IPG, to which the pilots belong, for leading the agitation.

The stoppage disrupted the airline's international operations, although domestic routes were largely unaffected.

"We are taking steps to resume normalcy. What happened was unfortunate, but let us move on, in a fresh direction," IPG spokesman Tauseef Mukadam said.

"We are optimistic of what can happen ahead."

The pilots would return to work only after both parties resolved their differences, Mukadam said.

Air India sources said it could be weeks before all pilots resumed duty.

"They would have to take medical tests and re-training programmes before they start flying again," an official said, declining to be named.

"This could take up to a month or more."

The country's fourth-largest airline by market share has been hit hard by rising fuel prices and fierce competition, which have added to its legacy of labour problems and crushing debts.

In April, the government had cleared a $5.75 billion bailout package to help the cash-strapped carrier, which has debts of $8.3 billion.

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