The Delhi high court on Wednesday agreed with the contention of Akasa Air that the DGCA is not completely barred from taking action against pilots who violate the terms of their employment agreements.
However, the court did not grant any immediate relief to Akasa Air which sought direction to the DGCA and Union Ministry of Civil Aviation to take action against its pilots who have resigned without serving the notice period, saying it will first decide the issue of jurisdiction raised by the aviation sector regulator.
Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora said since the Directorate General of Aviation (DGCA) has contended it has no jurisdiction to consider a representation made by the airline against the defaulting pilots under the extant law as it was a contractual dispute, the court will have to first decide the issue of jurisdiction before passing any other direction.
“There is no absolute restraint against the respondent from taking action as contended by respondent no. 1 (DGCA) and 2 (Ministry of Civil Aviation).
"To this extent, the court is in agreement with the submissions of the petitioner (airline)…”, the court said.
The high court made it clear that during the pendency of Akasa Air's plea, in case a pilot acts in breach of the minimum contractual notice period, as specified in his or her employment agreement, then such an action will be at the pilot's own risk and remain subject to the outcome of this petition.
The high court passed the interim order on Akasa's plea seeking direction to the DGCA and the ministry to take appropriate steps (including by way of issuing necessary notices/ directives) to prevent any further violation of the Civil Aviation Requirement and other rules during the pendency of its petition.
Meanwhile, the court impleaded the Indian Pilots Guild and Federation of Indian Pilots as party respondents to the petition.
The court asked aviation sector regulator DGCA, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Indian Pilots Guild and Federation of Indian Pilots to file their replies to the main petition.
Fledging Akasa Air has filed the plea which said it is in a state of crisis following the sudden and abrupt resignation of 43 pilots, who left the airline without serving the mandatory notice period.
The airline and its CEO Vinay Dube approached the high court with their petition on September 14, seeking a direction to the DGCA to take coercive action against these pilots for their "irresponsible actions".
While pronouncing the order, the court noted the petitioners, at the outset, have stated they are not seeking any action against the 43 pilots who have already resigned and only want clarification of certain previous interim orders.
Akasa Air also sought an interim direction to DGCA to take appropriate action as per extant law for possible future infractions by the existing pilots of the airline.
The DGCA, in its response, told the court it cannot interfere in the employment agreement between pilots and Akasa Air.
It said it would be in the interest of the parties that Akasa Air complies with the mandate of the aviation regulator to maintain a limited schedule if it does not have the necessary number of pilots to maintain flight operations.
As per the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) 2017, while first officers (co-pilot) have to mandatorily serve a notice period of six months, the requirement for captains (pilot in command) is one year.
The DGCA, in its written submissions said, "The DGCA cannot interfere in the employment agreement between airline and the pilot which itself contains the mechanism of termination of pilots... ".
It urged the court to dismiss the airline's petition with costs.
Regarding the airline's claim of cancellation of about 600 flights since June owing to the resignations, the regulator categorically denied the company provided it any documents or reasons for the same.
It added that as per the details submitted by Akasa Air, 1.17 per cent of its flights were cancelled in August, 2023.
The regulator said in case of major cancellations due to any reason, which is inclusive of pilot resignations, the regulator ensures the passengers are minimally inconvenienced and that appropriate protection is provided to them in the event of flight disruptions.
The Indian Pilots Guild and Federation of Indian Pilots in their written submissions opposed the airline's petition, saying it was indulging in the practice of forum shopping by engaging in multiple litigations as it has already filed a civil suit against the pilots in the Bombay high court.
The Federation of Indian Pilots said the airline has failed to demonstrate that the alleged cancellation of 600 flights in August was solely attributable to resignation by pilots and added that it be treated as unsubstantiated, bald averment.
The airline, which operated its first commercial flight between Mumbai and Ahmedabad on August 7, 2022, has hit turbulence following the resignation by its pilots.
SNV Aviation Private Limited, which flies under the brand name Akasa Air, has sought a direction to the DGCA to take coercive action against pilots who failed to comply with the mandatory notice period requirements in terms of the CAR 2017.
The airline, in its plea, said it has not been able to secure any efficacious remedy to protect itself and the public from "reckless and irresponsible" actions of certain pilots and added it was deeply aggrieved by the "callous" conduct of the pilots whose actions are blatantly in the teeth of the 2017 CAR and the contractual arrangements with the company.
It said with every such "illegal" resignation, that is conveniently carried out by the pilots without consequence, other pilots are encouraged to follow the same course of action which is clear from the ever-increasing number of pilots who have resigned since the first resignation in June 2023.
The plea said the airline officials met DGCA representatives several times to explain their difficulties but failed to receive any response or assurance from the authorities after which it gave a representation to the Minister of Civil Aviation but no action appears to have been taken.