The news of many Indian air carriers placing orders for more airplanes has created a lot of excitement among the travelling public and the pilot community.
One problem the growing carriers are going to face is to find qualified manpower to man their cockpits. Aviation in India goes through a cycle periodically, and as a result there is a either a surplus or a terrible shortage of qualified pilots. Finally airlines will have to resort to the expensive route of recruiting expatriate pilots. While it is true that there are thousands of newly minted pilots armed with Commercial Pilot Licenses, which is the most basic professional license, the harsh reality is that many of them may not be exactly suited for the jobs on offer.
When the previous boom in aviation started, thousands who dreamt of a piloting career jumped into the fray. Flying schools also mushroomed in all corners of the nation offering accelerated courses. Apart from that, aspirants could also undergo their training in flying schools located outside the country. The DGCA also made a concession in that the flying experience requirement for a Commercial Pilot’s License was reduced from the then prevailing 250 hours to 200 hours. As a result there are thousands of youngsters armed with Commercial Pilot’s Licenses and even a conservative estimate would put their numbers above 10,000. While a few of them might find jobs, the rest of them are eventually going to land up in non flying jobs. Many of them have taken personal loans at huge interest rates and sold or mortgaged their houses to finance their training. And since most had commenced their training right after schooling, they are also finding it difficult to find alternate employment.
It is high time that the concerned parties; the airlines, DGCA and the HRD Ministry, sit together and evolve a plan to produce a steady supply of well trained pilots who will be able to fill a finite number of vacancies which should be realistically projected. While it is a fact that one is free to choose what one wants to do with one’s money and one option is to spend it learning to fly or obtain a flying license, the harsh reality is that almost all have seen it only as an investment in one’s career and not merely as a recreation. And it is precisely this which should be a cause for concern for the policy makers.
One reason why airlines are finding it difficult to recruit suitable candidates is the terrible mismatch between the expectation of the training departments of the airlines and the product available in the job market. In most developed countries pilots who obtain their Commercial Licenses, start their professional careers flying light planes initially, working as instructors in flight schools, charter operations or if they are lucky enough, flying for corporate flight departments of business houses who have their own fleet of aircraft for their personal and business travel. Pilots after acquiring enough experience in these type of jobs then move on to regional carriers operating smaller aircraft and only after gaining enough experience in these, do they move on to the heavy jets. In India we have a rather unique situation in that, pilots fresh out of flight schools occupy the co-pilot’s seat on heavy jet aircraft after an endorsement course to meet the bare minimum legal requirement to qualify.
08/07/16 Capt S Sahu/Defence Aviation Post