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Flight Path

Aeronautical engineers develop aircraft and ensure these fly safely. Rahat Bano reports on this demanding calling

education Updated: Jun 20, 2012 17:38 IST
Rahat Bano

Seeing all kinds of aircraft taking off from and landing at Bhagalpur airport, close to his home, a young Suraj Pandey quite fancied the thought of piloting those flying machines one day. “My mother says that ever since I started talking, I always said, ‘I want to be a pilot’,” says the 29-year-old.

Talking about his town, which has an official literacy rate of 45 per cent and where even a clerk is seen as highly educated, Pandey says, “It is a small place where people don’t know much about aeroplanes.”

His dream of becoming a pilot, however, could not be realised — he could not get into the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi, Raebareli, for a commercial pilot’s licence; and family finances did not permit training in a private academy. There were no education loan facilities in those days. So for Pandey, the next best thing to flying was making planes, for which he decided to become an aeronautical engineering.

IITs were out, because their aerospace engineering programmes were more about space and rocket science. “There were limited options in terms of the number of approved institutions,” recalls Pandey, who then enrolled for the Aeronautical Society of India’s (ASI) Associate Membership Examination and joined an institute in Dehradun that prepares candidates for the exam.

Passing the AME is equivalent to getting a Bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from an Indian institute. After he cleared the exam, ASI sent Pandey for a year’s training at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) avionics division — as he specialised in avionics — near Amethi, where he worked with a special group on testing sets for fighter planes.

After over two years as manager (technical) at a private airline in New Delhi, he is now manager (regulatory affairs) at a service provider and authorised service centre for an Italian helicopter company in the Capital. Pandey’s role primarily is to ensure flight safety and operation by preparing and updating technical literature and publications.

Regulatory authorities approve the manuals he scripts. In the operations support aspect, Pandey monitors training and licensing of pilots, prepares documents required for renewal, issue of and endorsement on licences. Apart from this, he ensures Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) compliance for the purpose of issue of certificate of registration, certificate of airworthiness, permit endorsement and type certifications for every new type of aircraft to be imported for transport services — getting it done from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

HC Bhatia, secretary (administration), ASI, says, “There’s a reasonably good demand so far [for aeronautical engineers]. It should be improving.” Yet, he admits, the meltdown has squeezed avenues. Fresh recruitment “might be getting restricted” but “the situation is very encouraging at this stage. However, you have to compete,” says Bhatia.

YS Chauhan, head, department of aeronautical engineering, PEC University of Technology, formerly Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, says, “When I passed from the PEC in 1972, there were no jobs for aeronautical engineers in India. From our batch, one student was selected for HAL. So, I did MTech. Some went to the US.”

But over the past decade, the job market changed because of the entry of private airlines and the software boom. “Earlier, 60-70 per cent of the graduates went to software companies. This time about 70 per cent have gone into core engineering (HAL, Defence Research and Development Organisation etc),” says Chauhan.

Employers include HAL, DRDO, Indian Space Research Organisation, the armed forces, government and private airlines, helicopter operators such as Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited, National Aerospace Laboratories, Airports Authority of India, Aeronautical Development Agency, technical consultants and DGCA.

Aeronautical engineering is a specialist discipline which branches into aircraft and aerospace engineering. It “covers all things where the flow of air is utilised to help humanity to fly or fight a war”, says HC Bhatia of Aeronautical Society of India (ASI).

Involved in design, manufacture, testing and engineering, they update components, and ensure all documents concerning regulatory compliance are in place. It is not aeronautical engineers but licensed aircraft maintenance engineers who are authorised to inspect, maintain and certify aircraft

An average day of an engineer (flight safety) with a public sector aircraft manufacturing company:
9 am: Vet the reports from operations, safety and airworthiness departments
1 pm: Lunch in canteen
1.30 pm: Work on malfunctioning instruments/testing sets that have come from Indian Air Force and rectify them for delivery on deadline
4 pm: Take the instruments to the testing lab for checking
4.45 pm: Go to the boss with printouts of instruments/testing set reports
5.30 pm: Collect all reports from the boss, prepare the final snag report and send it to the dispatch department
6.30 pm: Push off for home

An assistant engineer in a public sector aircraft manufacturer earns Rs 20,000-30,000 a month. In the private sector, a fresh engineer makes Rs 20,000-25,000 a month and pay hikes depend on performance

. An eye for detail
. Innovativeness
. Physical fitness and mental alertness
. Logical thinking and high analytical skills

How do i get there?
Take science with physics-chemistry-maths at the Plus Two level. Then go for a degree/diploma programme in aeronautical engineering. If you cannot join a conventional college, take ASI’s Associate Membership Examination, conducted every six months, leading to a qualification equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering.

Aspirants should have passed 10+2 with 50 per cent marks each in PCM. Of the 4,000 enrolees taking the exam, a hundred make the grade. ASI gives meritorious candidates a monthly stipend of Rs 3,000 while they get on-the-job training

Institutes & urls
PEC University of Technology, Chandigarh
. Madras Institute of Technology
. Aeronautical Society of India
. Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram
. Indira Gandhi National Open University
. IITs, Bombay, Kharagpur, Madras and Kanpur, offer degrees in aerospace engineering Indicative list

Pros & Cons
Adventurous work
. Dealing with the latest technological systems
. After retirement, you can work as an adviser or facilitator
. Work might include bureaucratic tasks as well
. High-precision, high responsibility job — you cannot afford to err

You need a wide knowledge base

A former aeronautical engineer talks about the profile of his tribe and career prospects in the sector

What does an aeronautical engineer do?
He is involved in designing aircraft, manufacturing, maintenance and updates, that is, your system has some problem and you have a readymade imported item, so how do you modify it such that it meets your requirements.

Also, there’s technical plus managerial work. These days, everybody has to work in a multi-disciplinary environment. For example, he has to have knowledge of computers, microprocessors, mechanical systems. Only then can he succeed… So, his knowledge base must be quite wide.

What is the employment situation for them?
All aircraft require engineers. Only those people maintaining aircraft and related systems need a DGCA licence. The rest don’t. Airlines are using both licensed and non-licensed professionals. The only affected people in the meltdown are the licensed ones. But their numbers are very small.

New recruitments might be getting restricted — there might be fewer openings now — but seeing the boom in the market, there is scope for aeronautical engineers.

The situation by and large is very encouraging at this stage. However, you have still to compete. There’s a shortage of aeronautical engineers in the country, but it’s a marginal shortage.

What are the prospects for these professionals?
Engineering is a profession. Engineers don’t retire. They fade away. In the government sector, there’s an upper age limit. Once you retire, you can continue as adviser or facilitator in the government sector or outside. In addition, now the private sector has opened up.

HC Bhatia Interviewed by Rahat Bano