Delhi High Court Affirms DGCA’s Authority Over Pilot Employment Disputes
Legal Contention Addressed: DGCA’s Jurisdiction in Pilot Employment Matters
In a recent ruling, the Delhi High Court has clarified that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is not entirely barred from taking action against pilots who breach the terms of their employment contracts. The court’s decision is seen as a significant development in the ongoing dispute between Akasa Air and its resigning pilots. However, the court did not immediately grant relief to Akasa Air, which had sought intervention from the DGCA and the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation to take action against pilots who had resigned without fulfilling their notice period obligations. Instead, the court decided to address the issue of jurisdiction raised by the DGCA before proceeding with further directives.
Acknowledgment of DGCA’s Authority
The Delhi High Court acknowledged, ““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)…”
Pilots’ Actions and Legal Consequences
The court made it clear that during the pendency of Akasa Air’s plea, if a pilot acts in violation of the minimum contractual notice period stipulated in their employment agreement, they do so at their own risk, subject to the outcome of the ongoing petition.
Interim Order to Prevent Violations
In response to Akasa Air’s petition, the high court issued an interim order directing the DGCA and the ministry to take necessary steps, including issuing notices and directives, to prevent further breaches of the Civil Aviation Requirement and other regulations while the case is ongoing. Additionally, the court included the Indian Pilots Guild and the Federation of Indian Pilots as parties to the case and requested responses from the DGCA, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Indian Pilots Guild, and Federation of Indian Pilots to the main petition.
Akasa Air’s Predicament
Akasa Air, a fledgling airline, found itself in a crisis when 43 of its pilots abruptly resigned without serving the mandatory notice period. The airline, along with its CEO Vinay Dube, approached the high court seeking coercive action against these pilots for their “irresponsible actions.” While pronouncing the order, the court took note that the petitioners clarified they did not seek action against the resigned pilots but sought clarification of certain previous interim orders.
The DGCA maintained that it cannot intervene in the employment agreements between pilots and Akasa Air, emphasizing that the mechanism for pilot termination is already defined in these contracts. The regulator suggested that if Akasa Air lacked sufficient pilots to maintain flight operations, it should comply with the DGCA’s directive to operate on a limited schedule.
Complexities in Notice Periods
According to the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) 2017, first officers (co-pilots) are mandated to serve a notice period of six months, while captains (pilot in command) have a one-year notice period. The DGCA clarified that it could not involve itself in contractual disputes and urged the court to dismiss Akasa Air’s petition.
Airline’s Claim and Denial by DGCA
Regarding Akasa Air’s claim of approximately 600 flight cancellations since June due to pilot resignations, the DGCA denied receiving any documents or reasons for these cancellations. The regulator asserted that it ensures passengers face minimal inconvenience and receive appropriate protection in the event of flight disruptions.
Opposition from Pilots’ Associations
Both the Indian Pilots Guild and the Federation of Indian Pilots opposed Akasa Air’s petition, accusing the airline of engaging in forum shopping through multiple litigations. They argued that the airline had failed to demonstrate that pilot resignations were solely responsible for the flight cancellations.
Airlines Seek Resolution Amid Crisis
Akasa Air, which began its operations in August 2022, has encountered turbulence due to the resignations of its pilots. The airline’s plea seeks the DGCA’s directive to take coercive action against pilots who failed to comply with notice period requirements as per the CAR 2017.
Akasa Air has claimed that it has not received any effective remedy to protect itself and the public from the “reckless and irresponsible” actions of certain pilots. It further expressed its grievance over the “callous” conduct of these pilots, whose actions are allegedly in violation of the 2017 CAR and contractual agreements. Despite repeated meetings with DGCA representatives and a representation to the Minister of Civil Aviation, the airline asserts that no action has been taken in response to its concerns.
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