Driven by the aviation boom in India, GCAT Flight Academy, one of the largest flight training schools in the world in terms of customers, proposes to begin operations in India, a market that has been expanding rapidly for three years and is ranked next only to China, two Swedish government officials, who did not wish to be named, said.
At present it has training centres located in London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Riga and Hong Kong.
The academy was created by merging Sweden-based SAS Flight Academy and the UK-based GECAT, two companies which were recently acquired by a leading European investment fund, STAR Capital Partners Ltd. Repeated mails to Magnus Thalin, acting director at SAS Flight Academy, went unanswered. Similarly, mails sent to GCAT Flight Academy too were not answered.
GCAT Flight Academy is the largest flight-training organization in Europe and the third largest in the world with 340 customers. It owns 40 commercial full flight simulators for long range, regional and helicopter aircraft types, and also offers a range of other training equipment for pilot, cabin crew and maintenance training.
“With STAR Capital Partner’s investment, we will accelerate our growth plans in pilot training...," Brian Simpson, chief executive of GCAT Flight Academy, had said earlier at the time of merging the two academies. Analysts attributed this interest as a response to the growth in the Indian aviation sector. According to estimates by World Travel & Tourism Council, India will have at least 1.5 million openings in aviation and related industries by 2010, but is facing an increasing shortage of trained ­personnel.
“Take the numbers,” said Shankar Devarajan, chief operating officer of logistics start-up Avicore Aviation Pvt. Ltd, “there are existing pilots who have to be certified every six months—their skills have to be tested as per the flying regulations that’s a given. And then there are so many young students seeking pilot training.”
Every operational aircraft in an airlines fleet requires about 10-12 pilots, including co-pilots. Even if an airline has a fleet of five aircraft, it spends a huge amount on training 60 pilots every year as many of them have to be sent out owing to lack of adequate facilities or long queues at the existing training centres, he said.
According to civil aviation ministry estimates, about 480 aircraft will join the country’s existing fleet size of 310 by 2012. “Anybody setting up business (flying training) in India today is not just looking at South Asia but West Asia and some Central Asian and African countries, where pilots cannot go to the US for lack of visas after 9/11. They realize that in the long run, India is the only country in this region (South Asia) that can sustain that growth (in air traffic) to justify the returns,” Devarajan added.
GCAT will have to compete with established players in the Indian aviation training market such as Air Hostess Academy Pvt. Ltd (AHA), Frankfinn Institute of Air Hostess Training and Avalon Aviation Academy, which are among the leading flight training academies in the country. Some of GCAT’s current training partners include Aero Madrid, Air Canada, BMI, Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, Lufthansa Flight Training, SAS, Shandong Airlines and Swiss Aviation Training.