A DGCA directive has got pilots fuming, as they stand to lose their licenses if they don’t give six months’ notice before resigning and leaving for greener pastures.
By Shobha John
It’s a government directive that has pilots up in arms. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has said that pilots who join other airlines without giving the man-datory six-month notice are liable to lose their license. Further, the DGCA has asked airlines to give it a list of such commanders and has issued a show cause notice to some of them.
The DGCA is using a Civil Aviation Requi-rement (CAR) to curb these pilots. Section 7, Series X of CAR, which deals with flight crew standards, training and licensing, says: “It has been observed that pilots are resigning without providing any notice to 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 resignation by pilots and the resultant cancellation of flights causes inconvenience and harassment to passengers.
Sometimes, such an abrupt action on the part of the pilots is in the form of a concerted move, which is tantamount to holding the airlines to ransom and leaving the travelling public stranded. This is a highly undesirable practice and goes against public interest.”
It further says: “Such an action attracts provisions of sub-rule (2) of rule 39A of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, which reads as follows: The Central government may debar a person permanently or temporarily from holding any licence or rating mentioned in Rule 38.” This move comes in the wake of over 100 pilots quitting and joining international airlines in the last one year.
The CAR has created a hornet’s nest, as pilots are questioning the unfairness of it all. “This is a free market and one can leave for better opportunities. On what basis will my license be cancelled? Legally speaking, a license can be cancelled only in case of an accident or incident,” says the commander of a private airline who didn’t wish to be quoted, fearing victimization. Another says that this restrictive directive is against labor laws. In fact, some pilot unions had even gone to court over this arm-twisting.
It all started way back in 2005, with the launch of many private airlines, such as Kingfisher, Indigo, Go Air and SpiceJet. Pilots started getting poached from Air India, Indian Airlines and Air Deccan. Getting ready-made commanders is an attractive option for any new airline, as it doesn’t have to waste time on training them. For a person to acquire a commercial pilot’s license and then get a multi-engine rating, which allows him to fly commercial jets, the fees would be about Rs. 25 lakh. So a trained commander is
an asset for any airline and most companies pay them a salary of around Rs. 5-8 lakh a month.
But with the opening up of the skies, things have changed. Foreign airlines such as Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Oman Air are dangling higher salaries in the range of `13-14 lakh for a commander. Further, the situation here is none too rosy, as many Indian carriers are struggling to survive, be it Air India, Jet or SpiceJet.
With foreign pastures beckoning, pilots are known to leave without a no-objection certificate (NoC). “While foreign airlines are helping them get a local license, problems will arise if these pilots want to come back to India. Their flying licenses will no longer be valid and they’ll be at the mercy of the whims and fancies of the DGCA,” explains a senior commander.
Breach of contract
What has actually got the goat of the pilots is that if airlines want to downsize and remove an employee, only one month’s notice is required. “How fair is that? What’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander,” says an aggrieved commander. “Do other professionals like doctors, scientists and lawyers have to give NoCs when changing jobs?”
But what the DGCA has overlooked is that CAR is not applicable where the terms and conditions of employment have been altered or amended and there is a dispute in employer-employee relationship. It is a moot question as to what is “breach of contract” and how does a pilot explain this to a new employer. When Kingfisher Airlines was under financial crunch and employees were not given salaries, where was the DGCA, ask pilots. Those who were seeking jobs with other airlines were asked to get a NoC from Kingfisher, which they obviously couldn’t get.
Malpractices by airlines are not taken so seriously by the DGCA, allege pilots. “In the case of my company, we haven’t even been issued Form 16A this year, causing me to lose money to income tax. Why hasn’t the DGCA done anything about it,” asks one.
Some companies have made pilots sign a bond and these are arbitrarily charged between Rs. 10-20 lakh.
But there is the other side of the coin too. Airlines have, in the past, been aggrieved over the manner in which pilots have simply packed their bags and left, leading to flight disruptions and cancellations. But the situation isn’t the same now, so shouldn’t CAR be revoked? Also, when CAR was instituted, there was severe pilot shortage. Things are much better now, as there are more pilots in the market with Kingfisher’s collapse and more youngsters being churned out.
The only way out of this turbulence in Indian aviation is to inject more professionalism on both sides.
“Pilots can’t just abandon the ship”
It was way back in 2005 when the DGCA started Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) that created a furor. It stopped pilots from quitting unless a six-month notice period was given by them. The person who spearheaded this change was Captain GR Gopinath, the father of low-cost aviation in India and founder of Air Deccan. He justifies his decision to Shobha John:
Why was CAR brought in? India is the only country to have it.
In 2003, when Air Deccan began, many pilots were without jobs and were available to me. However, once Kingfisher, Go Air, Indigo and SpiceJet started, they started poaching my pilots, left, right and center. In one instance, an entire lot of 10 pilots left in one go, leading to flight cancellations. I even told Kingfisher’s Vijay Mallya: “This will bite you overnight.” It did, as his pilots later left for other airlines. I prevailed on the then aviation minister, Praful Patel, to stop this exodus, which is when CAR came into being in 2005.
But employees have a right to look for better employment.
That is true, but these are high-value assets and there should be some restriction on them leaving an airline in the lurch. They cannot just abandon the ship without giving time for airlines to look for replacements. It takes about six months to train another commander.
But DGCA didn’t act against airline managements such as Kingfisher, when service conditions changed, giving the impression that it works at their behest.
Both managements and pilots should be fair to each other. And both should be protected. All airlines are saying is, give us six months’ notice. No one is stopping pilots from seeking greener pastures.
Shouldn’t this directive have been removed when there was a glut of pilots and few jobs?
Different circumstances call for different actions. For example, there have been times abroad, when pilots have had to eat grass, as there were so few jobs. When airlines faced bankruptcy there, promoters, investors and employees took salary cuts. But do you see that here? When AI was going through a rough patch, pilots were the first ones to strike till the government came down heavily on them. So there should be consideration from both sides.