There are no fences facing for aviation jobs in India at present. The growing industry offers diverse choices. If you like to interact with people, you can opt for customer-facing jobs such as those of air stewards. But if you are more of a scientific and logical bent of mind, you could consider a career as a pilot or an aircraft maintenance engineer. The jobs pay well and form the heart of flying an aircraft.
Like for cabin crew, there is a huge requirement for pilots and engineers at the moment. By one count, the country would need 15,000 pilots by 2020, though the immediate needs for airlines are more modest. Kingfisher, for instance, needs 1,000 pilots as it triples its fleet to 100 aircraft by 2012. Air-India needs around 950 pilots to fly the 68 new Boeings it is acquiring.
To meet the requirements in the short term, airlines are hiring expatriate pilots. Kingfisher has conducted roadshows in Brazil, Venezuela, Toulouse (France) and Bangkok (Thailand). It is also trying to rope in Indians working with Middle Eastern carriers and ground services companies.
Ruby Arya, assistant vice president (HR), Kingfisher Airlines says, "People are willing to take a salary cut of Rs 50,000 a year to come back home. When you look at purchasing power parity, they maybe better off here."
To meet their long-term requirements, Air-India and Kingfisher are nurturing pilots through a cadet programme. Air-India has hired 150 cadet pilots, who would come back in 6-12 months to join as captains.
Mind you, recruiting and training pilots is not easy. "You need to recruit them well in advance," says Harpreet A De Singh, Air-India's deputy general manager for training. An airline may save time on training by hiring an expatriate pilot (but he still has to go through two weeks of ground training, take the mandatory exams, do a few sessions on the simulator, and a couple of route checks with a training captain), it takes nearly five months to get a security clearance.
Besides, there is an acute shortage of flight instructors and ground instructors. There are two types of ground instructors — one with engineering background who trains pilots on some systems, and other from operations background. "It's very hard to find operations training instructors and navigators," says Singh.
Flight instructors are senior pilots drawn from within the airline. But they have line duties, and are often not released due to a shortage of pilots and a possible loss of business if an airline had to cancel some flights. The problem is compounded by the fact that pilots, especially expatriates, are joining one by one than in batches.
Though this enhances the quality of training, it strains an airline's training resources. Pilots have to go through a refresher training; training on systems, safety and manuals (procedures).
Pilots earn $7,000-11,000 a month, depending on the market, experience and the kind of planes they fly. For instance, pilots for Boeing 777s are the most sought after. Those flying turboprops (ATRs) were paid less earlier, but now are at par with jet pilots.
Do you have it in you?
Sure, there is money in this. But it is important to figure out if you have it in you to stay a pilot or an engineer in the long term.
Pilots should have the practical aptitude and understanding to apply knowledge gained through training to acquire a commercial pilot licence and taking exams conducted by the regulator. He or she also has to be a quick thinker.
Similarly, an engineer should be completely focused on safety. "If you are casual, and not meticulous, this job is not for you. You have to certify the plane with 400 passengers; have to certify the aircraft fit for release," says Singh. A pilot can overrule an engineer, but most often relies on the engineer.
"Every day, your skill is tested as an engineer," says Manjula Mani, Jet Airways' general manager (HRD). "You should be logical, focused and have perseverance. At times, there would be pressure on you to quickly release the aircraft," she says.
Jobs for engineers will shoot up with the setting up MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft) units. Leading firms have announced collaboration ventures for MRO (Singapore Engineer-GoAir, Jupiter Aviation-Indian-Airbus, and Boeing-Air-India) and more could follow. But whatever the job you may aspire for, it is important to figure if you the aptitude. Changing course midway, as any pilot can tell you, can be more painful. Make sure you are on the right flight before fastening your seatbelt.