POLITICS

Akasa Air in ‘state of crisis’ due to abrupt resignations of over 40 pilots, airline tells Delhi HC

The airline and its CEO Vinay Dube approached the high court with their petition, seeking a direction to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to take coercive action against these pilots for their “irresponsible actions”.

The fledgling Akasa Air has told the Delhi High Court it is in a “state of crisis” following the “sudden and abrupt” resignation of over 40 pilots who left the airline without serving the mandatory notice period.

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

The high court has fixed the plea for hearing on Friday.

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. It told the court it will have to cancel a large number of flights in September due to the resignations.

The airline told Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora on September 19 that the company was in a “state of crisis” because of these resignations and had to cancel multiple flights every day this month.

The court has asked the parties to file their written synopsis in the matter.

The court also sought to know from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), represented by advocate Anjana Gosain, as to what action it takes in case flights have to be cancelled due to pilots’ resignation.

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 fail to comply with the mandatory notice period requirements, in terms of the Civil Aviation Requirement…” Akasa Air spokesperson, in a statement issued on Wednesday, said a shortage of pilots is an issue that the airline industry has faced for decades and as a team of planners, “we are prepared for unforeseen circumstances and have contingency management strategies in place”.

“In that regard, we have a ten-year plan that covers pilot recruitment, training and internal career upgrades. In fact, as of today we have enough pilots at various phases of their training to fly over 30 aircraft. We have training partnerships with key players in the industry such as Boeing and CAE and are in the process of developing a cadet program of our own over and above that,” the spokesperson said.

The company said in its statement that as a nation it has the ability to create thousands of pilots each year and it does not view this as an insurmountable challenge that cannot be tackled with good planning.

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 Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) and the contractual arrangements with the company.

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.

“… the petitioner no. 1 proceeded to then issue a representation dated August 18, 2023 to the Hon’ble Minister of Civil Aviation to bring the issue of mass resignations by the pilots without serving notice to the attention of the Hon’ble Minister and his office. It is respectfully submitted that to the best knowledge of the petitioners, no pertinent action appears to have been taken pursuant to the said representation,” it said.

The petition said the DGCA’s inaction in the face of the crisis is at odds with its statutory duty to act in public interest.

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.

“The 2017 CAR was introduced by the DGCA in recognition of the fact that pilots are highly specialised professionals, on whom the aviation industry is heavily reliant. The 2017 CAR (as well as its previous iterations) was an effective response to callous conduct of pilots who would abandon airlines en masse in violation of their commercial bargains,” the plea said.

It said the 2017 CAR also recognises that it takes 8 to 9 months to train pilots before they are released to fly, and sudden and abrupt resignations lead to cancellation of flights and causes inconvenience and harassment to the passengers.

The petition said a large number of pilots who were on the permanent roll of the airline have resigned from their position and abandoned their services immediately.

It said these pilots refused to serve the mandatory notice period of 6 months required under the employment agreements between the airline and them.

The airline has sought enforcement of provisions of CAR 2017 and action against the erring Pilots.

“Failure by respondent nos. 1 (DGCA) and 2 (Ministry of Civil Aviation) to give effect to provisions of the Aircraft Act, Aircraft Rules and 2017 CAR is extremely detrimental to the travelling public and can set a dangerous precedent going forward. As the sectoral regulator, it is incumbent on the respondent no. 1 to deal with such misconduct that so gravely threatens the public interest,” it said.

The petition said none of the resignations tendered by the pilots appear to have been issued on account of any legitimate or bona-fide reasons and most of the resignation emails from them do not even contain any reasons or justifications for abandoning their service almost immediately and without serving any notice period. 

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