'Air Force short of planes, not pilots' | india | Hindustan Times
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'Air Force short of planes, not pilots'

india Updated: Jun 20, 2006 19:43 IST

At least 450 Indian Air Force pilots were performing ground duties as there were not enough planes to fly, a BBC report said on Tuesday.

"Classified documents available with the BBC show that out of the total cadre strength of nearly 2,500 pilots, at least 450 pilots were doing daily administrative and ground jobs that should be done by other staff," a BBC statement said.

According to BBC, the IAF currently has 790 serviceable aircraft comprising 340 fighters and 450 transports and helicopters.

An IAF officer, however, pointed out that quite a few fighters and the entire transport and helicopter fleet were twin-pilot aircraft.

"Even for the single pilot fighters, the pilot-cockpit ratio is not necessarily 1:1. Then, we have to cater for leaves, sickness and training. So the BBC logic could not exactly be correct," the officer spoke on condition of anonymity.

BBC said that it had documents to show that the serviceability of the entire IAF fleet was not more than 50 per cent - and by year 2010 the transport fleet would be reduced by nearly 40 per cent.

"It is also shown in the documents that the IAF, which has 34 squadrons at the moment, plans to reduce its squadrons over the next eight years. By 2013, the number of squadrons would be down to 28," BBC said.

Some of the pilots on ground duties said that their poor utilisation rate proved contrary to claims by IAF officers that pilots who had sought premature release could not be allowed to leave as it would create a shortage of pilots.

A pilot, who had served for more than 15 years and had been taken off flying duties, said, "Whatever the authorities might say, the fact is that the Air Force is overstaffed in terms of pilots. It was highlighted in the media that crores (millions of rupees) are spent on training a pilot. Then why are pilots doing desk jobs?

"We were not recruited and trained for clerical jobs. Since we are on the Air Force payroll, they think we could be made to do anything they like."

"In every air force station, you will find fully competent and medically fit pilots posted to various ground administrative jobs," said another pilot with a decade of experience.

"The average utilisation rate of pilots in terms of flying hours per month was around five to six hours a month, which was very low. The nation should know that pilots' unrest is not just about moving to greener pastures. It is about low utilisation rate, poor living conditions and a culture of favouritism."

Some of the pilots demanded introduction of public accountability in the armed forces, where they claimed senior officers were promoting "sycophancy".

Some also said that the cost cited by the IAF on training was recovered within 10 years. Forcing them to stay in the force after that against their wishes and reverting them to non-flying duties was a violation of their constitutional rights, they claimed.

On this, Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi said that pilots joined the IAF with their eyes open and could not later complain of poor salaries or harsh service conditions.

"When you join the service, you join with open eyes. This is the contract. The contract is that you will serve till the President of India so desires," he said.

"You join at a particular salary, you join with these conditions - have I broken that contract? No."

It was reported in May that some 250 IAF pilots had wanted to put in their papers but were being prevented from leaving.

Tyagi had rubbished this, saying the number of pilots wanting to leave was in single digits.

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