National carrier Air India has sacked 48 pilots, citing financial constraints due to the coronavirus crisis, The Hindu reported on Friday. The termination letters were given to the pilots on Thursday evening, weeks after the airline promised on Twitter that no employees would be laid off.

“You would appreciate that the company is already severely strained financially,” the letter to the pilots, accessed by the newspaper, said. “Further, the global pandemic Covid-19 has resulted in extraordinary and exceptional circumstances by gravely reducing the commercial functioning of the company leading to redundancies. The company is incurring huge net losses and doesn’t have the financial ability to pay.”

The letter said their termination comes into effect immediately. “You will stand released from the services of the company w.e.f close of office of August 13,” it added.

Some of these pilots had resigned last year, but it was withdrawn within the six months notice period time as per rules. The letter informed the employees that the earlier resignation is being accepted now.

Meanwhile, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association on Friday wrote to Air India chairperson and Managing Director Rajiv Bansal and said the termination was a blatant violation of company’s operation manual and service rules. “Around 50 of our pilots have been terminated overnight unceremoniously without proper procedure being followed,” ICPA tweeted. “A rude shock for those who served the nation in this pandemic putting the nation first.”

They pointed out that one of the pilots was made to fly even after being given the termination letter. “This is a violation of comical proportion, not to mention grave flight safety hazard,” the pilot’s body said. “What would have been the mental state of these pilots after knowing their services were terminated? For the safety of the travelling public alone if not on humanitarian grounds these pilots should not have been made to operate flights under such traumatic circumstances. This vengeful exercise carried out by the personnel department to illegally terminate pilots compromises the safety of our flights.”

However, Air India said the company no longer requires the services of those terminated. “The fact of the matter is that these pilots (57 in number), seeking greener pastures, had resigned from the services of Air India citing financial constraints,” it said. “The pilots include permanent and contractual ones. Some of the pilots later on had withdrawn their resignations. Moreover, some of these pilots (14) have filed writ petitions before Delhi High Court seeking a direction to Air India to accept the withdrawal of their resignations. This matter is subjudice.”

Last month, the Air India pilot association had written to the national carrier complaining that the company’s leave without pay scheme was finalised without consulting the pilots. Before that, Air India began to send some under-performing employees on compulsory leave without pay for up to a period of five years. It claimed the policy was a “win-win situation” for both parties, as it gives freedom to its employees to engage themselves with another employer for the said period, while also allowing the airline to save its cash flow.

The airline has also cut monthly allowances of its employees who earn a monthly gross salary of over Rs 25,000 by up to 50%.