Saturday, September 16, 2023

Schedule disruption: Akasa sues 43 pilots who quit recently, seeks Rs 22 crore damages

New Delhi: Thirteen-month-old Akasa has sued over 40 pilots who resigned from it to join other airline/s in the past couple of months. The virtual exodus has forced the airline, which started flying last August, to cancel several flights since last month. As a result, its August 2023 domestic market share had slipped behind that of cash-strapped SpiceJet which it had overtaken in June. Akasa is learnt to have sought about Rs 22 crore as compensation towards loss of revenue and reputation from the 43 pilots who it claims left without serving the mandatory notice period.

An Akasa Air spokesperson said the airline has "sought legal remedy only against a small set of pilots who abandoned their duties and left without serving their mandatory contractual notice period.... 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."

Citing breach of training agreement, the “particulars of claim” in a notice served to one of the pilots reads: “Loss of operational profits on account of business disruption caused… (by) cancellation, rescheduling and grounding of flights… loss of reputation…” Apart from moving court, the airline has also written to aviation authorities on the issue. Akasa has reached a fleet size of 20 aircraft within a year of starting operations.

While senior pilots across airlines favoured “ethical hiring” where “poaching” does not happen in a way that disrupts operations of some other carrier which has been meeting its side of contractual obligation like paying on time, they unanimously said the same should not be attempted to be enforced through the legal requirement of a six-month notice period. “When an airline adds capacity or starts operations, it also ‘poaches’ from some other carrier affecting the latter’s operations. So let he who has not sinned cast the first stone it terms of taking legal action against pilots who have quit without serving notice period,” they said.

Secondly, pilots point out cases of some airlines — this does not include Akasa so far — that have been defaulting on their side of contractual obligation of paying employees salaries on time for month using the six-month notice period to stop their pilots from leaving. One such airline even approached the DGCA on the issue and fortunately, the regulator did not intervene.

16/09/2023 Saurabh Sinha/Times of India

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