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Pilots fly into job-hop barrier

New Delhi, Sept. 1: Pilots fastening seatbelts for a round of job-hopping face a long wait and run the risk of being branded public enemies.

The government today came out with a “public-interest” fiat ordering pilots to give a minimum six months’ notice before leaving the airline they are working for.

“It has been decided by the government that any act on the part of pilots, including resignation from the airlines without a minimum notice period of six months, which may result in last-minute cancellation of flights and harassment to passengers, would be treated as an act against the public interest,” the government said.

The announcement comes in the middle of a dogfight by newcomers for trained hands, which has torpedoed an unofficial “no-poaching pact” floated by established airlines that requires pilots to give a four-month notice before leaving.

Today’s six-month order, which lawyers feel skates on thin legal ice, was issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

The DGCA warned that if the order is ignored, it could attract penalties that might include debarment. However, the notice period “may be reduced if the airline provided a no-objection certificate and accepted their resignation earlier than six months”.

G.R. Gopinath, managing director of the low-cost Air Deccan which has made its presence felt within a short span of time, said: “It (the rule) has been necessitated by immature younger pilots. A six-month cushion is the right notice period as it takes that long to train a new flight commander.”

The move drew a sharp reaction from pilots. S.S. Panesar, the former secretary of Indian Commercial Pilots Association, said: “The DGCA has no business getting into this area of managing labour relations. It is supposed to look after safety regulations.”

Supreme Court lawyer Deepak Bhattacharya pointed out that “if the six-month notice period is not in the original agreement, this fiat is unenforceable. Talk of public interest does not hold legal water.”

The DGCA said sudden departures by pilots had disrupted flight schedules in several areas. Recently, several passengers remained stranded for a few days in Lakshadweep as the pilot reportedly refused to fly saying he had quit.

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