Paucity of pilots triggers aviation war

New Delhi: Although Wing Commander Devesh Kakar (name and location changed on request) who handles flight administration at an IAF base in Allahabad, has logged 1,200 hours on an IAF aircraft, some 19 years of incident-free flying, that alone does not guarantee career progression in the steep promotion pyramid of the defense services. Kakar needs only to pass a simple DGCA conversion exam for a civil license, which could translate into a ten-fold jump over his IAF salary.
He is exactly the kind of person that Indian airlines are desperate for: experienced in flying in Indian conditions, adept at dealing with Indian situations and people, and considerably cheaper to employ than pilots from abroad.
But there’s a hitch. Before Kakar’s resignation is accepted, he will have to be rejected for further promotion by three separate promotion boards. Unlike any other employer, the Indian military can refuse to allow its personnel to resign and the courts have always upheld its decision.
The civil aviation administration, searching feverishly for managers, instructors and pilots to support India’s burgeoning aviation growth, tip-toes around the IAF’s decision, but continues to eye this manpower pool.
Civil Aviation Secretary Ajay Prasad, who recently employed a retired air force officer to run the prestigious Sanjay Gandhi National Flying Academy, says, “We need pilots. We want to give the pilots who are available to be released from the air force a greater role in civilian traffic. We can fly a person who is medically fit up to the age of 65 and in the air force people retire much earlier, so we can certainly use them as instructors and even as online pilots.”
But Air Chief Marshall SP Tyagi points out that if civil aviation is expanding, so is the IAF.
The IAF’s inability to release its pilots may be infuriating for civil airlines, but aviation consultant Tulsi Kesharwani believes that this could work well for pilots in the long term.
“If just one airline folds up today and returns its aircraft, you could quickly have a situation where there are more pilots than are needed,” he says.
02/02/07 Ajai Shukla/Business Standard

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