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Bombay HC says Akasa Air can take legal action against 5 pilots for their abrupt exit

A few pilots who abruptly left their jobs without giving the legally required notice time as stipulated in their contracts were the subject of a Bombay High Court action brought by the low-cost carrier.

On Wednesday, the Bombay High Court ruled that low-cost airline Akasa Air could move through with its Mumbai lawsuit to recover contractual damages from five pilots who unexpectedly left the carrier.

A few pilots who abruptly left their jobs without giving the legally required notice time as stipulated in their contracts were the subject of a Bombay High Court action brought by the low-cost carrier. First officers and captains assigned to the carrier are required to serve a six-month or one-year notice period.

On September 25, the HC had deferred its decision regarding the pilots’ argument challenging the maintainability of the legal claims Akasa Air had made against them.

Since neither the contracts’ performance nor execution took place in Mumbai, the pilots have argued that a lawsuit filed in Bombay High Court cannot be maintained.

After 43 pilots quit, Akasa Air earlier declared that it was in a crisis and may have to shut down. The airline claimed to the Delhi High Court that it had to cancel 24 flights every day in September due to the sudden resignation of the pilots.

Due to flight disruptions, Akasa’s market share decreased from 5.2% in July to 4.2% in August of this year, according to DGCA data. The airline now operates a fleet of 20 aircraft.

Akasa Air even asserted that the DGCA had significantly harmed it. The airline claimed that the regulator put it through “significant financial and operational hardship” by failing to take action to stop 43 pilots from quitting their jobs suddenly.

According to a Reuters story, Akasa Air accused the DGCA of being “unwilling to take any action” on September 14 in a 265-page legal file. This allegedly led to “significant financial and operational hardship” as well as “reputational loss.”

In response to the situation, the DGCA made it clear that it lacks the jurisdiction and competence to interfere with any employment agreements or decisions involving airport operators, airline operators, or any other parties.

The DGCA requested that the court reject the airline’s petition with costs and stated that it “cannot interfere in the employment agreement between airline and pilot which itself contains the mechanism of terminating pilots.”

Regarding the airline’s assertion that 600 flights have been cancelled since June due to pilot resignations, the regulator vehemently refuted that the company had given them any documentation or explanations for the same.

“The data/records are maintained by respondent no. 1(DGCA) for flight cancellations 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 continued by stating that, according to information provided by Akasa Air, 1.17 percent of flights were canceled in August 2023.

Later, the carrier clarified that its request for interpretation and clarification of the statutory notice period requirements for pilots was made to the Delhi High Court and that it was not directed against the DGCA or the civil aviation ministry.

We want to be clear that this is not a complaint against the DGCA or the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), but rather a request that the courts quickly interpret and explain the interim order issued by the same court on the same issue in 2018 regarding the pilots’ mandatory notice requirements.

The airline claimed that since the beginning of the legal process, its position in court has been that this is a non-adversarial claim and merely seeks explanations and instructions to enforce an already-existing interim decision and the civil aviation legislation.

Meanwhile, following some pilot departures from the airline, Akasa Air CEO Vinay Dube stated that the low-cost carrier is choosing to fly fewer flights and give up market share in the short term to ensure it runs a dependable operation.

Dube wrote in an email to the staff, “When a small set of pilots abandoned their duties and left without serving their mandatory contractual notice period, it forced a disruption of flights between July and September, necessitating last-minute cancellations.”

 

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