Air India and Akasa Air CEOs Clash Over Pilot Poaching

In a private exchange, the CEOs of Air India and Akasa Air have been at odds over the issue of pilot poaching. Akasa Air accused its larger competitor, Air India, of violating rules, which led to a response that any collusion to restrict job changes could violate competition laws. This dispute, outlined in a letter dated September 21 and viewed by Reuters, highlights the increasing competition in India's aviation sector. The industry is experiencing a strong recovery post-pandemic, with a surge in new aircraft orders leading to a pilot shortage.


The letter, sent by Campbell Wilson of Air India to Vinay Dube of Akasa Air, followed a phone call between them and a letter from Dube expressing his concerns to the Tata Group, which owns Air India. In the letter, Wilson responded to Akasa's accusation that Air India was violating government policies requiring pilots to give six to twelve months' notice - rules currently being challenged in court by Indian pilots' groups. Wilson stated that these rules were "not currently enforceable" and pointed out that Akasa had previously poached pilots from other airlines, including Tata Group's budget carrier, Air India Express. Akasa did not comment on its communication with Air India but stated that the issue of pilot departures was "now behind us... we are squarely back in growth mode". Both CEOs did not respond to requests for comment.

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The disagreement comes amid a hiring boom by Air India and its subsidiary, Air India Express, which plans to triple its fleet to 170 over the next five years. Recently, Akasa lost about 10% of its 450 pilots who left without serving their notice periods, some joining Air India Express. In September, fearing a shutdown, Akasa sued some pilots and the aviation regulator for not assisting them; these lawsuits are still pending.


In his letter, Wilson warned Dube that requesting a competitor to collude in restricting employees' rights to change jobs "could be construed as potentially a contravention of competition law". The Federation of Indian Pilots has interpreted the mass resignations from Akasa as an "indication" of employee dissatisfaction. Akasa, which began operations in 2022 and has captured 4% market share, competes with IndiGo (60% market share) and Tata Group's airlines (25.7% combined market share). In his letter, Wilson expressed hope that Akasa would invest in "attracting, retaining and developing" its staff and looked forward to "continuing healthy competition".

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