The Delhi High Court has refused to stay Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh’s order to extend the flight duty time limitation (FDTL) of Air India pilots and cabin crew, saying it was their duty to enable Air India to “pull through” the “financial crisis.”
“Since the respondent Airlines is going through a crucial financial crisis, it becomes the duty of each and every person, who is part and parcel of the institution to work as per the established industry practises to enable respondent Airlines to pull through from its present position,” Justice Suresh Kait told.
The court said it is not “inclined to stay the operation of impugned order” and added that Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and other authorities have “power to increase” the FDTL as per the civil aviation requirements (CAR).
The order came on a plea of Sheela Joshi and other cabin crew members of Air India alleging that the minister and the DGCA have “arbitrarily” changed the FDTL, which were being governed by the Air Craft Rules along with the Memorandum of Settlement agreed on October 01, 2008.
As per the DGCA guidelines, the FDTL and the Flight Time Limitation (FTL), which deals with the actual hours spent in a flying aircraft, are 11 and nine hours respectively.
As per an earlier agreement between the Union and the Airlines, FDTL and the FTL had been pegged at 9.5 and 6.5 hours respectively.
“I am of considered opinion that the respondents have the power to increase the hours as per CAR 1997 with the condition that the rest period at base shall be prorate increased by twice the amount of extended period of flight duty time. If the rest is given to the cabin crew, then neither the health of the cabin crew nor the safety of the passengers will be affected,” Justice Kait said. The court, however, said the decision to increase FDTL and the FTL was not “final” as the issue is yet “to be worked out.”
During the hearing, the AI management had taken the plea that the Airlines was facing a “grave financial crisis” and is able to pay the salaries of its employees only from the aids from the government.
The employees have to work as per the established industry practises to enable the respondent Airlines to pull through from its present position, it said.
Besides the cabin crew members, Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA), the union of erstwhile Indian Airlines, had also challenged the increase in FDTL and FTL.
The minister had directed the AI on September 11 to follow the DGCA guidelines on FDTL for pilots and cabin crew on the ground that a comprehensive analysis had warranted the change.
The analysis found that barring one of the six FDTL parameters regarding ‘Rest Period’, all others followed by the carrier for its pilots and crew members were on the lower side compared to what was laid down by DGCA, an official statement had told.
The other parameters include number of landings, maximum daily flight duty period, maximum daily flight time, weekly, monthly or annual limitation of flying hours, SOD (Staff on Duty) travel or positioning for duty.
According to the analysis, the pilots were found operating flights for 6.5 hours on domestic and seven hours on international sectors, against the DGCA guidelines of nine and 10 hours respectively.