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2 pilots’ unions plan to take aviation regulator to court

Under a new rule introduced by the DGCA, pilots are required to serve a notice period of up to one year when they resign from an airline.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Aug 18, 2017, 11.57 AM IST
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MUMBAI: Two associations representing more than 1,600 pilots plan to take India’s aviation regulator to court over a new rule, which requires them to serve a notice period of up to one year when they resign from an airline. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation introduced the rule on Wednesday.

"We had petitioned at the Bombay High Court even when the rule was in its draft stages. Then, we were told it was too early to appeal. Now that it's been implemented despite all our protests, we will file a fresh petition," said D Balaraman, the president of the National Aviators Guild, which has more than 1,000 pilots of Jet Airways as members.

The Indian Pilots' Guild, affiliated to Air India and represents about 600 aviators of the national carrier, will also approach the Bombay High Court over the issue, a spokesperson said.

Other unions would protest against the rule but were yet to decide on a legal course of action, said Praveen Keerthi, general secretary at the Indian Commercial Pilots Association, another second lobbying body of Air India pilots.

Under the new rule, commanders will need to serve a notice period of one year and co-pilots, six months. This is expected to massively impact fresh employment opportunities for them in a dynamic, aggressive job market where job-shifting and poaching are rampant. In fact, DGCA cited frequent job changes by pilots as the reason for the long notice period.

"It has been observed that pilots are resigning without providing any notice to the airlines. In some cases, even groups of pilots resign together without notice and as a result airlines are forced to cancel their flights at the last minute. Such resignations…cause inconvenience and harassment to the passengers,” said the regulator’s Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR).It takes 8-9 months to train a new pilot, it said.

Coordinated resignations “tantamount to holding the airline to ransom”, it said, calling it a “highly undesirable practice” that “goes against public interest".

Implementation of the rule is subject to the outcome of a previous writ petition filed by pilots unions at the Delhi High Court.

It was opposed in the draft stage. Almost all of about 300 respondents had opposed it when the regulator had put it up for feedback.

The International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations, a global lobbying body representing more than 100,000 pilots, had also criticised the proposal.

Industry experts and lawyers raised doubts about the legal validity of such a rule.

"This is a completely draconian rule. It goes against the freedom to choose one's livelihood. In this dynamic market, no company will wait for one year for an employee to move from his previous employer. No court will allow this. I think it will surely be stayed for the asking," said Ramesh Vaidyanathan, managing partner at Advaya Legal, a Mumbai-based law firm.

"The rule is not legally tenable. We expect DGCA’s notice to be set aside by the court," said Kapil Kaul, the South Asia chief executive at Sydney-based consultant CAPA Centre for Aviation.

"The decision is not based on merit and logic related to demand-supply dynamics and, more importantly, reflects poorly on the institutional functioning at DGCA," he added.

Kaul said he expected this decision to impact expansion, forward planning and costs at airlines.

"All the startup airlines including possible strategic investors considering entry due to the 100% FDI rule will be significantly impacted. Such arbitrary decision-making will create unnecessary entry barriers. We expect this move to lead to some form of industrial conflict and tension," he added.
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