Can’t interfere in employment agreement between pilots, Akasa Air: DGCA to HC

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has told the Delhi High Court that it cannot interfere in the employment agreement between pilots and Akasa Air, which has sought action against pilots who have resigned without serving the notice period.

The DGCA said it would be in the interest of the parties that petitioner airline, Akasa Air, complies with the mandate of the aviation regulator to maintain a limited schedule if it does not have the necessary number of pilots to maintain flight operations.

The civil aviation regulator filed its written submissions in response to a plea by the fledgling airline which has said it was in a state of crisis following the sudden and abrupt resignation of 43 pilots, who left the airline without serving the mandatory notice period.

Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora had reserved its order on the airline’s plea on September 19 and asked the parties to file their written submissions.

The airline and its CEO Vinay Dube approached the high court with their petition on September 14, seeking a direction to the DGCA to take coercive action against these pilots for their “irresponsible actions”.

In its response, the DGCA clarified that it does not have any power or delegated authority to interfere in any employment contract and decisions in respect of airport operators, airline operators or any other stake holders.

“The DGCA cannot interfere in the employment agreement between airline and the pilot which itself contains the mechanism of termination of pilots…,” the DGCA said while urging the court to dismiss the airline’s petition with costs.

Regarding the airline’s claim of cancellation of about 600 flights since June owing to resignations of pilots, the regulator categorically denied that the company has provided any documents or reasons to it for the same.

“The data/records are maintained by respondent no. 1(DGCA) for cancellation of flights along with the cited reasons which are primarily due to operational, commercial, technical or on account of weather, but no such information regarding the cancelled flights was communicated to respondent no. 1 as averred by the petitioner,” it said.

It added that as per the details submitted by Akasa Air, 1.17 percent of flights were cancelled in August, 2023.

The regulator said in case of major cancellations due to any reason, which is inclusive of pilot resignations, the regulator ensures that passengers are minimally inconvenienced and that appropriate protection be provided for the air travellers in the event of disruptions of flight.

Meanwhile, the Indian Pilots Guild and Federation of Indian Pilots in their written submissions opposed the airline’s petition saying it was indulging in the practice of forum shopping by engaging multiple litigations as it has already filed a civil suit against the pilots in the Bombay High Court.

The Federation of Indian Pilots said the airline has failed to demonstrate that the alleged cancellation of 600 flights in August was solely attributable to pilots’ resignations and added that it be treated as unsubstantiated bald averments.

It further said THE DGCA has no locus standi to dictate the terms of contract between two private parties, and the petition deserves to be rejected.

Regarding taking action against the pilots who have resigned without completing the period of six months, the DGCA said it is a condition that forms part of the employment agreement between the airline and the pilot.

As per the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) 2017, while first officers (co-pilot) have to mandatorily serve a notice period of six months, the requirement for captains (pilot in command) is one year.

The DGCA said both the notice periods are already under challenge before the high court and the status of CAR is that of executive instructions as decided by the Supreme Court.

“Any violation of terms of the employment contract agreement between pilots and airlines is subject to the agreement itself and therefore is outside the purview of DGCA in terms of doctrine of privity to the contract. It is reiterated that the parties are free to fix their notice period as per their mutual understanding and DGCA has no role to play in the same,” it said.

The airline, which operated its first commercial flight between Mumbai and Ahmedabad on August 7, 2022, has hit turbulence following the resignation of several pilots.

SNV Aviation Private Limited, which flies under the brand name Akasa Air, has sought a direction to the DGCA to take coercive action against pilots who failed to comply with the mandatory notice period requirements, in terms of the CAR 2017.

The airline, in its plea, said it has not been able to secure any efficacious remedy to protect itself and the public from “reckless and irresponsible” actions of certain pilots and added it was deeply aggrieved by the “callous” conduct of the pilots whose actions are blatantly in the teeth of the 2017 CAR and the contractual arrangements with the company.

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It said with every such “illegal” resignation, that is conveniently carried out by the pilots without consequence, other pilots are encouraged to follow the same course of action which is clear from the ever-increasing number of pilots who have resigned since the first resignation in June 2023.

The plea said the airline officials met DGCA representatives several times to explain their difficulties but failed to receive any response or assurance from the authorities after which it gave a representation to the Minister of Civil Aviation but no action appears to have been taken.

As a result of the pilots’ actions, immense difficulty and inconvenience has been caused to the public in as much as there have been numerous cases of last-minute flight cancellations, delays and grounding of flights, it said.

The airline added that such a precarious situation has fallen upon the petitioners despite their scrupulous compliance with all applicable regulations and the terms of its agreements with the pilots.

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