Can’t meddle with employment agreement between pilots, Akasa Air, DGCA tells Delhi HC

- September 25, 2023
| By : Patriot Bureau |

The DGCA emphasized that it would be in the best interest of both parties if Akasa Air adhered to the aviation regulator's directive to maintain a limited flight schedule when it lacks a sufficient number of pilots to operate its flights

Delhi High Court (Photo: Getty)

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has informed the Delhi High Court that it lacks the authority to meddle in the employment agreements between pilots and Akasa Air. Akasa Air had sought action against pilots who had resigned without fulfilling their notice period obligations.

The DGCA emphasized that it would be in the best interest of both parties if Akasa Air adhered to the aviation regulator’s directive to maintain a limited flight schedule when it lacks a sufficient number of pilots to operate its flights.

This response from the civil aviation regulator came in reaction to a plea from Akasa Air, a relatively new airline that found itself in a crisis after 43 of its pilots abruptly resigned without serving the required notice period.

Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora had previously reserved judgment on the airline’s plea on September 19 and asked for written submissions from all parties involved.

Akasa Air, along with its CEO Vinay Dube, had approached the high court on September 14, seeking the DGCA’s intervention to take punitive measures against these pilots for their “irresponsible actions.”

The DGCA firmly clarified that it did not possess the authority to interfere in employment contracts and decisions concerning airport operators, airline operators, or other stakeholders. It stated, “The DGCA cannot interfere in the employment agreement between the airline and the pilots, which already contains provisions for pilot termination.” The DGCA urged the court to dismiss the airline’s petition and impose costs.

Regarding Akasa Air’s claim that approximately 600 flights were canceled since June due to pilot resignations, the regulator denied receiving any documents or reasons from the company regarding these cancellations. It insisted that the cancellations were primarily due to operational, commercial, technical, or weather-related issues, and not solely attributable to pilot resignations. According to data provided by Akasa Air, 1.17 percent of flights were canceled in August 2023.

The DGCA stressed that in the case of significant cancellations, including those resulting from pilot resignations, it takes measures to minimize passenger inconvenience and provide appropriate protection for air travelers in the event of flight disruptions.

Meanwhile, the Indian Pilots Guild and Federation of Indian Pilots opposed the airline’s petition in their written submissions. They argued that the airline was engaging in forum shopping by pursuing multiple legal actions, as it had already filed a civil suit against the pilots in the Bombay High Court. They also contended that the airline had failed to substantiate its claim that the flight cancellations were solely the result of pilot resignations.

The DGCA further emphasized that the notice periods mentioned in the employment agreements between airlines and pilots, as per the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) 2017, were already under challenge in the high court. The DGCA clarified that it had no role in determining these notice periods, as they were a matter of mutual agreement between the parties. It reiterated that it could not interfere in the contractual relationship between private parties.

Akasa Air, which commenced its commercial operations on August 7, 2022, between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, has faced turbulence due to the resignations of several pilots. Operating under the name SNV Aviation Private Limited, the airline had sought the DGCA’s intervention to take action against pilots who had not complied with the mandatory notice period requirements outlined in the CAR 2017.

The airline argued that it had been unable to find an effective remedy to protect itself and the public from what it considered the “reckless and irresponsible” actions of certain pilots. It expressed its frustration with pilots resigning without consequences, which, it claimed, had encouraged more pilots to do the same.

Akasa Air stated that it had met with DGCA representatives multiple times to explain its difficulties but received no response or assurance from the authorities. It also claimed that despite its diligent compliance with regulations and contractual agreements, it had faced significant public inconvenience, including last-minute flight cancellations, delays, and grounded flights.

(With PTI inputs)