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HindustanTimes Thu,17 Apr 2014

Slump effect: Expat pilots go out of fashion

Tushar Srivastava, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, December 26, 2012
First Published: 23:17 IST(26/12/2012) | Last Updated: 02:25 IST(27/12/2012)

With the aviation industry in the grip of a slump,it appears that high flying expatriate pilots have fallen out of favour with Indian carriers.

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The number of foreign pilots employed by Indian airlines has fallen sharply from 526 last year to 340 in 2012.

Foreign pilots have been a cause of much heartburn for their Indian counterparts as they command higher salaries.

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The government had allowed domestic carriers to hire foreign crew to deal with the shortage of trained commanders and had asked airlines to phase them out by December 31, 2013.

Cash-strapped Vijay Mallya-owned Kingfisher Airlines provided Indian carriers an opportunity to reduce the number of high-costing expatriates. More than 300 Kingfisher pilots have quit the airline in the last one year and have been absorbed by Indian and foreign carriers. Jet Airways recently terminated contracts of 72 expat pilots — a move aimed at pruning costs.

Indian carriers are also speeding up the process of training co-pilots to captains, a move that some believe compromises the safety aspect. “Indian carriers are giving command to pilots with 2,500 hours of flying while carriers like Emirates and Singapore Airlines give command to those having a minimum 5,500 flying hours,” said aviation safety expert Captain Mohan Ranganathan.

Analysts believe that better paying Gulf carriers could be weaning away pilots from India. “Foreign pilots are getting a lot better contracts from Gulf airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad. Indian carriers are strangled with red tape and poor operating performance as well as limited growth in salaries,” said Saj Ahmad, a London-based aviation expert. “None of that is prevalent in West Asia — especially when the carriers named are growing so fast and are always on the lookout for new flight crew to pilot their new fleets.”

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