Akasa Air takes legal route in dispute with former pilots

The airline has alleged that Tata-owned Air India Express hired its pilots in violation of aviation regulations

A file photo of an aircraft operated by Akasa Air prepares to land at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai. (photo: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
A file photo of an aircraft operated by Akasa Air prepares to land at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai. (photo: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Aditya Anand

Akasa Air, India's youngest airline, has initiated legal action against 43 former pilots who left the airline without serving their mandatory notice period. The airline, which began operations in August 2022 and currently boasts a fleet of 20 aircraft, alleges that the abrupt departure of these pilots violated their contractual obligations, disrupted its operations and tarnished its reputation.

Last month, senior executives from Akasa Air, including CEO Vinay Dube, approached the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), alleging that Air India Express's recruitment of their pilots violated aviation regulations and hindered their operations. DGCA's mediation efforts to resolve the issue amicably failed.

In response, Tata Sons-owned Air India Express has refuted the allegations, asserting that the recruited pilots from Akasa had fulfilled their contractual obligations by paying bond amounts of up to Rs 50 lakh (approximately $67,000 USD), thereby covering their training costs. The dispute has now led to legal proceedings, with Nora Chambers representing Akasa and Air India Express hiring the legal firm Indus Law to defend its position.

The legal proceedings, filed by Akasa Airline in the Bombay High Court, seek compensation of approximately Rs 22 crore (roughly $3 million USD) from the pilots to cover the losses incurred due to the sudden departure and the damage inflicted upon the airline's brand.

The airline spokesperson said, “We have sought legal remedy only against a small set of pilots who abandoned their duties and left without their mandatory contractual notice period. This was not only in violation of their contract but also the country's civil aviation regulations. Not only is this illegal in law but also an unethical and selfish act that disrupted flights in August, forcing last-minute cancellations that stranded thousands of customers, causing significant inconvenience to the travelling public.”

Akasa Airline revealed that the pilots' departure had forced the airline to cancel several operations since August 2023, affecting its ability to execute its entire schedule of operations.

Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) rules mandate that Indian pilots must serve a six-month notice before switching airlines or joining foreign carriers, a requirement typically included in employment contracts across airlines.

The legal battle brings into question the validity of the six-month notice period, with experts suggesting that its compliance may be examined in light of fundamental rights and principles of contract law.

Akasa Air, which added its 20th aircraft to its fleet in August, enabling it to initiate international operations, has urged the DGCA and the Minister of Civil Aviation to address this issue, highlighting its potential impact on the Indian aviation industry.

The outcome of this legal dispute will undoubtedly have implications for labour relations and contractual obligations within the Indian aviation sector, sparking discussions on the balance between employee rights and industry regulations.

Akasa Air has achieved a significant milestone as the first airline in the global aviation industry to increase its fleet from zero to 20 aircraft within a year of operation, further emphasising the importance of protecting its investments in training and retaining its aviation professionals.

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