MUMBAI- India’s youngest carrier, Akasa Air (QP), and Tata-backed Air India Express (AI) have both refrained from accusations of pilot poaching, with each asserting that the other is involved in unfair business practices, according to senior executives from the airlines.
Akasa Air, financially backed by the late investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, has taken legal action against 19 pilots who joined Air India Express without completing a six-month notice period, claim the executives.
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In response, Air India Express, which is owned by Tata Sons, has denied these allegations. They state that the pilots hired from Akasa Air had already paid the required bond amount, which could be up to Rs 50 lakh, as compensation for their training costs.
Despite mediation attempts by the sector regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), no resolution has been achieved. Consequently, both Akasa and Air India Express are preparing to take legal action, as stated by the executives.
Nora Chambers represents Akasa Air, while Air India Express has appointed Indus Law to represent the pilots.
Since May, 19 pilots have left Akasa Air to join Air India Express, and some of them departed with less than a week’s notice, leading to flight cancellations and rescheduling. In an effort to retain pilots, Akasa Air has increased salaries twice in the past two months.
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Insiders revealed to ET that last month, senior executives from Akasa Air, including CEO Vinay Dube, approached the DGCA, alleging that Air India Express’s recruitment of their pilots violated aviation regulations and adversely impacted their operations.
According to a 2017 regulation established by the aviation authority, it is mandatory for captains to complete a one-year notice period, while first officers are required to serve a six-month notice period before leaving an airline.
However, the DGCA declined to intervene in this matter, citing the ongoing challenge to the rule by several pilot unions, which is currently awaiting a decision in the Delhi High Court.
A senior DGCA official stated, “The parties involved should resolve this matter among themselves, as we cannot take action until the court decides on the rule’s validity.”
Pilots Say They Are Not Wrong
A senior executive from Air India Express has stated that the recruitment of pilots aligns with the terms of their contracts, as they have fulfilled the required bond amount for resigning before the notice period.
The executive mentioned that less than 10% of the airline’s new hires come from Akasa Air, with the majority of appointments resulting from internal promotions, transfers, and the recruitment of newly licensed pilots and former military aviators.
The Tata-owned airline’s spokesperson attributed pilots’ attraction to their airline to multiple base options, a flexible work schedule, opportunities to operate widebody aircraft, and the legacy of the Tata Group.
However, pilots who have received legal notices from Akasa Air argue that the contract is invalid due to changes made by the airline to payment structures. In June, Akasa Air reduced pilot payments from Rs 10,000 to Rs 7,500 for each hour flown beyond the monthly quota of 40 hours.
This legal dispute underscores the challenges faced by Indian airlines in recruiting experienced captains and trainers, particularly in light of the record number of aircraft orders.
Airlines are experiencing their busiest year of pilot recruitment in over three years as they work to replenish their workforce, which was depleted during the pandemic and strained by a rapid rebound in travel.
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