Sharad Saxena is a mid-level executive. Until 2003, the 36-year-old who takes home Rs 50,000 a month (back in 2003, it was less than Rs 30,000), rarely travelled by air except on a few official trips a year. Thanks to the entry of low-fare airlines, Saxena has travelled by train only twice in the last four years. He flies five or six times and can afford to go on two-three holidays a year, which was almost unthinkable earlier.
Schools for cabin crew
While airlines are still not sure how to value them, schools have sprung up to teach skills to make air hostesses and flight stewards. The crew undergo training in catering, first aid, general airborne procedures, documentation (the ones they have to complete after each flight), use of the public address system and details of aircraft pressurisation and ventilation. They are given lessons in the use of safety the emergency drill. At first the practical work is taught on the ground; later on, they have to gain flight practice as an extra.
Welcome to the aviation revolution, which is just beginning to unfold. Back in 2003-04, three domestic airlines had 123 commercial jets; today, six airlines fly 310 planes, selling 35 million seats a year — more than twice the 15.6 million seats they sold in 2003-04.
But these airlines are still scratching the surface. The Indian Railways carries nearly 13 million people daily. Compared to that, the number of unique fliers in the country is not more than 10 million (many take multiple trips a year).
Although the airlines are losing money, they continue to add capacity — each airline is adding a plane or two a month despite an estimated 25 per cent surplus capacity which is putting pressure on their yields. But this may not last for long. People like Saxena, once used to air travel, will not go back to trains, unless fares go up significantly, which is unlikely given the competition and surplus capacity.
As incomes rise, many more people like Saxena will start flying regularly. That’s what Deccan executive chairman GR Gopinath calls “the tectonic shift”, in a reference to people taking to flying just like they did to mobile phones. And that’s when airlines will start making money.
Slicing pies in the sky
Meanwhile, the market would consolidate as few players can sustain the losses. The weaker players will sell out to stronger rivals or shut shop. To an extent, this is already happening. Deccan Aviation, which owns budget carrier Air Deccan, has sold a 26 per cent stake to Vijay Mallya’s UB Holdings, which also owns the full service airline Kingfisher. Before that, Jet Airways acquired Air Sahara and rechristened it Jet Lite. The third big player is the state-owned Air India (and Indian, scheduled to be merged into it) which will become the most formidable group in the country. The next couple of years could see the emergence of three strong full-service carriers, a couple of large low-fare airlines, and a few regional carriers.
The airlines will together take delivery of 480 planes till 2012 (they have added 150 planes in the last two years).
How to get in
If you are thinking building a career in aviation, this is the right time. Airlines are expanding as they plan to fly overseas or start flying to more international destinations. For instance, Jet Airways will soon start flying to the US and Canada and Air India will start operating non-stop flights to the US.
Typically, there’s a lead time of six months to a year from the time an airline starts recruiting pilots, crew and engineers and the time it starts flying on international routes. In fact, Kingfisher has already started hiring pilots and engineers for its international foray. It has hired 48 engineers for wide body aircraft and is trying to lure Indians working with Middle East carriers. In five years, Kingfisher’s fleet will almost triple to 100 aircraft, including 50 wide-bodied planes. This will require it to increase its cabin crew to 3,500 (from 950 today), hire , ground staff (1400), 1,500 engineers (800), and 1000 pilots (397), said Kingfisher HR head Ruby Arya. By the year-end, the airline will add 1,200 cabin crew, 700 ground staff and 250 pilots. And we are just talking of just one airline, though one with the most aggressive plans.
What’s on offer
<b1>Aviation offers many jobs, which includes licensed categories like engineers and pilots, who need a licence to fly and are certified by the regulator after they take exams from time to time. Then there are jobs that don’t require a licence like white-collar jobs on the ground, airport and customer services — people who do your check-in, ticketing, man the boarding gate or the step-ladders.
This can be classified as ground staff, though some airlines euphemistically call them guest services. All you need for such a job is a graduate’s degree.
Where the demand is
Cabin crew members are, of course, the most sought-after and rewarding job. All you need is a pleasing personality, good communication skills and an eagerness to help and serve people (and it involves a lot of flying). You can start with Rs 25,000, and with experience, you can earn up to Rs 80,000 a month. In fact, if you are good, you could fly with international carriers like Emirates or Qatar Airways and take home a tax-free salary of Rs 1 lakh a month; experienced crew members get Rs 1.50 lakh a month.
No wonder, many girls in small and big towns want to be air hostesses. But the job is not just about glamour and money; it involves a lot of hard work, odd hours, and loads of flying.
Security agents and call centre agents are also part of the aviation job scene.
Experts estimate that aviation jobs would grow at 35 per cent a year. “That is because many operations will get automated. So, jobs may not grow at the same pace as airlines add planes,” says Manjula Mani, general manager (HRD), Jet Airways. For instance, airlines have flight dispatchers, who brief pilots on weather and how to optimise flights. With automation, a pilot may get this information online in his cockpit.