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Plagued by a shortage of commanders, several domestic airlines are trying to lure back Indian pilots who were poached by West Asian carriers. SpiceJet and Vistara have held roadshows in major Gulf cities like Abu Dhabi and Dubai in their bid to recruit captains and first officers for their respective airlines. “Indians, sometimes, find working conditions in the Gulf region too tough and monotonous. The system is very process-driven there and sometimes, you may earn cash but not the desired respect- this is precisely the lot the Indian airlines are trying to lure back,” says a former IndiGo pilot who is now employed with the Dubai-based Emirates. India has been a favourite hunting ground for cash-rich West Asian carriers. Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways have jointly hired more than 100 pilots in past six months by offering a fat pay cheque. The shortage was so alarming that the airline lobby group Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) persuaded aviation regulator DGCA to increase the notice period for commanders from six months to one year. “I don’t think we are offering the same pay, perks that the Gulf carriers provide. We are trying to attract pilots who are eager to come back home,” said a senior SpiceJet official. Indian airlines are suffering from an acute shortage of commanders even as they are adding capacity at a fast pace. The reason is the additional training and flying hours required for a first officer to be elevated to the post of a commander. CPL holders, with a rating on a particular aircraft, need to undergo three to six months training before being selected as a first officer.
The licence examination for the post of commander requires a minimum 1,500 hours of flying.A first officer can get upgraded to a commander’s post over a period of three to six years, depending upon the airline’s training requirements. This is provided that the said officer would have at least flown 2,500 hours before taking the post. According to the aviation consultancy firm CAPA, Indian airlines currently has an order book of 923 aircraft. SpiceJet, which is looking to hire commanders for its existing Boeing 737 NG and 737 max fleet, has more than 200 aircraft on order that will be delivered from June next year. Vistara is likely to place a 100 aircraft order as it becomes ready to fly abroad, beginning from mid-2018. However, pilots say that it will not be easy for Indian airlines to attract pilots who have been working in the Gulf region for some time now. The DGCA notice period of one year discourages many pilots to come back to India. Additionally, there is a wider career scope in West Asia. “Working in the Gulf region allows flying wide-body aircraft that always remains very attractive. Job stability is another major driver, given that Indian carriers continue to remain vulnerable given their financial constraints. Except IndiGo and may be Vistara, growth in other carriers remains limited,” said an Indian commander who works for Qatar Airways.