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.
“These are HR issues best sorted out between airlines. In an ideal world, the regulator should not intervene in such issues. The six-month notice period was brought in to protect consumer rights by avoiding schedule disruptions and people suddenly finding (a) the flight they had booked has been cancelled and (b) they now need to buy sky-high spot fare tickets on other airlines. While that was the idea, the provision has also been misused by financially weak airlines to hold on to their staff without being able to pay them in time for months on end. Ideally this clause should not be there but there has to be some discipline in the industry before its removal can be considered,” said a retired senior DGCA official.
So what is the way forward? “This is a cyclical issue. Unfortunately every few years big airline/s collapse globally and in India too, leaving scores of employees desperately looking for jobs. Most recently we saw that with GoAir. There is immense suffering then. Then are times when airlines are chasing employees and poaching happens. This cycle is unlikely to end. Now that India is moving to a more structured airline industry with two mega players — Tata airlines and IndiGo — and a smaller emerging player (not taking into account regional carriers) there will hopefully be sone hiring discipline in coming years just like we have been seeing pricing discipline with hardly any below cost fares being offered by airlines in recent months,” said officials across airlines.
The Akasa spokesperson added: “Fortunately, that (flight cancellations due to pilots’ quitting) is behind us now. Thanks to the hard work of our colleagues. As a young start up, we are proud of what every Akasian has helped us build in the first year of our operations. Therefore, this kind of behaviour by a handful of employees is not only illegal and unethical, but also deeply disrespectful to the hard work of our entire team which shows up to work, everyday with utmost integrity.”