Monday, October 02, 2023

Is pilot shortage holding back Akasa Air and India's aviation sector from taking off?

Akasa Air, the latest addition to India’s list of airlines, had been flying high following its launch last year. Recently, however, it has hit some turbulence, as dozens of pilots walked out, leading to hundreds of cancelled flights and angry customers.

Experts say the challenge Akasa is facing only highlights what is set to become a much bigger problem in India, as airlines expand rapidly to meet rising demand in one of the world's fastest growing aviation markets – but the availability of trained staff is failing to keep pace.

“Most of the players in the sector have a huge expansion plan, which would require a large base of skilled people including pilots, cabin crew and other operating staff,” says Manish Chowdhury, head of research at broker StoxBox.

“With the pace of supply of pilots lagging the demand in a big way, we expect this scramble for pilots to intensify.”

More than 40 pilots have resigned from Akasa Air in the past couple of months to join other airlines, including Air India Express, which also operates Boeing Max 737 planes.

Akasa resorted to suing some of the departing pilots, with a representative for the airline saying the employees did not serve “their mandatory contractual notice period” and “not only is this illegal but also an unethical and selfish act that disrupted flights, forcing last-minute cancellations that stranded thousands of customers”, according to a Times of India report.

The High Court of Bombay on Wednesday allowed the airline to proceed with its lawsuit seeking contractual damages from some of the pilots.

“Akasa Air is facing an unprecedented and unique challenge in the civil aviation industry,” says Jyoti Prakash Gadia, managing director at investment bank Resurgent India.

02/10/2023 Rebecca Bundhun/National

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