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PAL wins P3.3-M lawsuit vs. 'AWOL' pilot

For violating his contractual obligations and training agreement with Philippine Airlines (PAL) in 2006, a former PAL pilot was ordered by the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) to pay the flag-carrier millions of pesos in training fees and other penalties.

In a decision dated September 15, 2010, Presiding Judge Elpidio Calis of the Makati RTC Branch 133 ordered pilot Zenon Lukban to pay PAL P1.5-million plus interest, at the rate of six percent annually, for the cost of his training at the PAL Aviation School.

In addition, the respondent was held liable to reimburse PAL the amount of P1.87 million, plus interest, for the cost of training his replacement, as well as P50,000 in attorney’s fees.

Judge Calis said one of the conditions of Lukban’s training agreement required him to serve the flag carrier for five years in exchange for the cost of training shouldered by PAL.

Court records indicate, however, that only two years after completing his training, Lukban, on April 19, 2006, wrote a letter of resignation to chief pilot Capt. Rolly C. Canlas. His resignation was to take effect on May 20, 2006.

On May 8, 2006, PAL management officially rejected Lukban’s resignation saying this was in violation of his training contract which was to expire on July 2009. The agreement also required the pilot to file his notice of resignation 120 days before the intended date of resignation. This requirement has since changed to 180 days after the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) declared the job of pilots and aircraft mechanics as “mission critical skills”.

But since Lukban went AWOL (absent without official leave) immediately after tendering his resignation, administrative and civil cases were pursued by the airline against the erring pilot.

The RTC’s order comes on the heels of PAL’s move to lodge multi-million peso damage suits against 27 pilots and first officers who resigned in August 2010 to take higher-paying jobs in the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia. So far, 16 pilots and first officers are facing charges of abandonment of duty and breach of contract before a Makati trial court.

The abrupt resignations forced PAL, which is currently mired in a labor dispute with its cabin crew and ground unions, to cancel some of its domestic flights last July.