The Delhi High Court on Monday asked Air India to consider paying at least one month’s salary to its contractual pilots, whose services were suspended in April and eventually terminated in August, reported PTI. The court told the airline that it cannot leave its employees to “hang high and dry”.

A total of 61 Air India pilots were terminated from their services in August. The airline cited the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting financial crisis as the reason behind its decision.

A bench of Justice Navin Chawla asked the counsel for the national carrier to hear out the grievances of the pilots and see whether something like a “golden handshake” can be arranged between the two parties.

The court was hearing two pleas moved on behalf of the terminated pilots, who sought the quashing of the April 2 order suspending their services, and the subsequent order of August 7 by which they were all terminated. The pilots, represented by advocates Lalit Bhardwaj, Krishan Gopal and Jatin Anand Dwivedi, demanded that the airline should restore their contractual engagements or pay them salaries, along with flying allowances with effect from April 1.

During Monday’s hearing, Air India defended its decision and told the court that since a countrywide lockdown was imposed in March, 90% of its regular pilots have been sitting at home as most of its fleet has been grounded. Due to this, the airline suffered losses as high as Rs 1,300 crore, the national carrier said.

It further argued that contractual obligations cannot be sought to be enforced by way of a writ petition, and said the pilots should have filed a civil suit instead.

When the court asked the airline why it did not sack the pilots in April itself if it could not afford to employ any more pilots after the lockdown, Air India said it was not sure how long the flying operations would be affected and therefore, had not terminated their services.

The court said it understood the company’s predicaments in the prevailing extraordinary situation, “but we cannot also let the employees be left to hang high and dry”. Justice Chawla then asked the airline’s counsel to take instructions on paying one month’s salary to the pilots and listed the matter for hearing on December 16.

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