Last week, Palash Roy's family was served a legal notice by a bank. Roy's father, a railway employee, had taken a Rs. 18-lakh loan so that his son could enroll in a pilot training academy. Today, Palash, 25, works as a personal assistant to a member of parliament. He says his family has no means to pay back the loan amount.
Palash is one of the many thousands whose dream to become a commercial airline pilot came crashing after a slowdown hit the aviation industry about five years ago. There are an estimated 12,000 unemployed commercial pilot licence (CPL) holders in the country and the number is increasing every year.
Employment opportunities for new comers are next to nil. There are only six domestic carriers. "There is a complete freeze on hiring in almost all airlines. What airlines want are experienced commanders. There is hardly any demand for first officers," said Roy, who had left his engineering course midway to pursue his dream to become a pilot. While a captain earns around Rs. 4.5 lakh-a-month, co-pilots get around Rs. 2 lakh.
Pilot training academies charge between Rs. 20-25 lakh for a one-and-a-year course. That is not all. "After completing CPL training I spent another Rs. 5 lakh on multi-engine training in 2009," said Roy, who hails from Assam.
Airlines, he said, prefer type-rated first officers, which would mean coughing up even more - as much as Rs. 25 lakh - to qualify. However, there is no guarantee if that too would help as there are dozens who are jobless even after getting the type-rating done.
Indian carriers employ around 5,000 pilots and co-pilots, who include around 340 high-cost expatriate commanders.
There are 32 recognised flying schools in the country and joining them involves risk. "There is nothing like a job guarantee or placement," said an official at the Amritsar Aviation Club.
"Kingfisher is gone and no one else is recruiting. The aviation industry is in the doldrums since 2008," said Captain Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation expert. Before spending such huge amounts on flying training people should atleast find out if there are any jobs at all in the market, he said.
Since the Kingfisher crisis began in late 2011, an estimated 400 pilots and 600 cabin crew have left the airline.
"It's true that at present there are no vacancies," said a senior executive at a private carrier.
"Not even a single person in my batch could become a pilot. Those who had family businesses were lucky. Many others went back to college and did their graduation. Many are still sitting idle. There is also an unemployed pilot's welfare association on Facebook," said Roy.
Those who have trained to be cabin crew are no better off. Salaries for newcomers are as low as Rs. 25,000 a month.
"The charm is gone. Salaries are no more attractive. Very few of us get to fly on international routes. Moreover, there are hardly any vacancies," said a stewardess who did not wish to be named.