Airline operators are making a beeline for Indian aviation academies. This follows the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA’s) programme to phase out expatriate pilots working with Indian airline operators, giving rise to the demand for domestic pilots. Most airline operators have till July 31 to phase out expats from the cockpits.
The stagnation of the Indian airline industry in 2004-05 had prompted the need for foreign pilots. Expat pilots, estimated to comprise around 10 per cent of the estimated total 4,800 pilots in the country, are currently employed by major Indian scheduled operators such as Air India, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines and SpiceJet.
“The DGCA tightening its restrictions on the renewal of expat pilots’ licenses, has definitely helped students find placements with Indian airline operators, who were earlier looking outside for their pilot requirements. We recently had a major regional airline recruit from us because of DGCAs new norms and we expect that the market will only continue to improve,” says Raminder Mamick Ghosh, Head -Business Planning & Control, Chimes Group, which runs the Chimes Aviation Academy. In particular, choppers, public sector pilots and private jets are expected to see a rise in demand.
The starting salary of students placed with this domestic carrier averaged Rs 1.25 lakh per month, according to Ghosh. The fees involved for training as a commercial pilot are also high. “The average fees for an 18 month course is Rs 20-25 lakhs, so its pretty steep,” says a former aviation student who did not wish to be named. A number of good academies have opened up since. “The number of academies who have received their license to operate are currently around 35 in number, of which not more than 11-12 with good infrastructural facilities must be operational,” says Ghosh.
Many trained pilots, meanwhile, who had been unable to find employment with Indian operators are also hopeful of getting a job. “A few years ago, only the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi had the infrastructure to provide decent training, the rest were just flying clubs. I had gone to California for my training three years ago, because the training period was lesser and the infrastructure was better. But, I was unable to find a job when I came back. Now, prospects are opening up again,” said a former student, who has been unable to find employment in India and is currently working in the hospitality industry.
Keeping in line with the new norms, Jet Airways is planning to hire more Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) holders having rating on the type of aircraft operated by them. However, Kingfisher Airlines has no plans to increase hiring for this year. Salary packages had also been a source of contention earlier, when expats with similar experience were being paid upto 40 per cent more than their Indian counterparts. “Airlines have reduced the perks and salaries that expats get to some extent. However, senior pilots, expat and Indian are still not at quite the same salary level,” said Ghosh, Chimes Group.
Meanwhile, the DGCA is extending the July 31 deadline by a year on a case to case basis. The extension is thought to have been necessitated by a shortage of trained manpower and planned capacity additon by airline operators to cater to increased demand for air travel. It has also decided to oversee the process of phasing out by airlines to ensure that the expat pilots’ phasing-out programme is on track.
A spokesperson for Jet Airways says: “The airlines have been asked to give justification and if the DGCA is satisfied, they will extend the validity by one year provided the expat pilot has not completed four years in the country.” 17 per cent of Jet Airways’ pilots are expats.