Aviation: a profile of young star Pratik Mehta | india | Hindustan Times
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Aviation: a profile of young star Pratik Mehta

His childhood fantasy has taken wings in reality, and Kingfisher pilot Pratik Mehta is literally flying the good times of India's aviation sector. Lalatendu Mishra tells us more.Q & A with Pratik Mehta | Rapidfire | Another rising star: Saloni Khanna | Skills & Qualifications | Training & Institutes | Career ladder | Global opportunities | Pluses & Minuses | Industry Overview | Challenges | Quirky facts | An interview with Naresh Goyal

india Updated: Apr 01, 2008 02:14 IST
Lalatendu Mishra

As a child, Pratik Mehta would rush to the balcony of his father's Andheri Lokhandwala flat every time a plane flew past. Nothing unusual for a child. But Pratik turned his childhood fancy into reality by sheer planning, hard work and a dash of luck.

Today, he flies Kingfisher Airlines planes six days a week and symbolises the opportunities in the civil aviation sector.

He is the first aviator from his Mumbai-based, working class family. Soft-spoken and teetotaler Mehta says he is completely committed to his wife Suman Solanki, his long-time girlfriend who too is a commercial pilot with Kingfisher.

"I was drawn towards airplanes since I was very small and called my papa every time I sighted a plane. When I was in Standard VIII, I knew about all the steps required to become a pilot and in standard XI, I was taking tuitions to appear for the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) tests," said Pratik.

At that time, there used to be a waiting period of 18 months for aspiring pilots to join a flying school, and Pratik timed it accordingly. His parents, both working, were very supportive.

After Class XII, Pratik joined the Baroda Flying Club for elementary training and completed his flying training from the Ahmedabad Flying Club, all in two years. He got a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) in 1998 and was looking forward to join an airline but there were no takers.

"It was a frustrating time. Pilot jobs were scarce; there were many candidates knocking the doors of very few airlines. I appeared in several interviews and was turned back every time," Pratik said.

For those in the waiting, stakes were very high. One needed Rs 8 lakh to learn flying.

After staying jobless for three years, Pratik had to take up a job as flight dispatcher, a ground duty job that entails completing all the formalities including Air Traffic Control (ATC) clearance and weather details for the pilot so that he could head for the cockpit without wasting time. This job, demeaning for a trained pilot, was getting him Rs 5,000 a month.

"The period between 1998 and 2003 was very bad for pilot job seekers. Many with flying licences were forced to take up jobs in banks and call centres. I know someone who went to his hometown to run a hotel," Pratik said while describing about the job scenario.

While doing the ground duty job he met Suman, who also took up a similar job after leaving pilot training midway because of lack of opportunities and stringent norms for becoming a pilot. They got married in 2007.

Pratik, like many others, turned lucky when the aviation sector looked up in late 2003 with the entry of Air Deccan and the existing players expanding capacity. He got a job in Jet Airways with a five-figure monthly salary. The best was yet to come.

In two years, three more airlines - Kingfisher Airlines, SpiceJet and Go Air - entered the business, thus broadening the market for aviation job seekers, be it pilots, cabin crew, ticketing staff, customer relation executives and other support services.

As more planes were imported, more pilots were required to fly them. Pratik joined Kingfisher in December 2005 as a senior co-pilot, with the airline bearing all expenses to train him as an Airbus 320 pilot.

"My career took off in a big way. From a smaller cockpit, I moved to a Boeing cockpit and by now have clocked little more than 3,200 hours of flying," Pratik told Hindustan Times at their newly-bought third-floor apartment in Santacruz. The location of their new house has more to do with its proximity to the airport, where the couple needs to go almost every day.

With all airlines importing more planes, more co-pilots are being promoted as captains to take command of the increasing number of domestic and international flights. Pratik is now in a transition and getting trained to be a captain.

Pratik's pay has doubled since he quit the Jet Airways job. Once he becomes captain, his salary will go up steadily further.

But it is not a cakewalk. "Our job is very challenging. On most days, pilots handle eights take-offs and landings. It requires a lot of skill, discipline and medical fitness," said Pratik.

Unlike other professions, there is zero tolerance for any small mistake in this licensed job. With our skies getting more crowded with more than 300 planes crisscrossing the country daily, that small mistake may cost many lives.