Fleet of fliers to swell soon
The civil aviation boom in India has had a flip side: shortage of pilots, especially in the two national carriers. The government, in a catch 22 — the shortage has meant recruiting pilots from abroad, thereby causing resentment within the ranks — has decided to train more pilots to cater to the booming sector.
With the current shortfall of commercial pilots, by conservative estimates, standing at 880, the Centre has decided to upgrade the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udan Akademi, set up a new training institute in Maharashtra and improve all the flying clubs in the country.
“Our projected requirement of commercial pilots in the next five years (again by conservative estimates) is at least 4,800,” a senior official in the civil aviation ministry said.
In all, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has till date issued 2,300 commercial pilot licences and 1,500 airline transport pilot licences.
This means that India will need at least another 2,500 commercial pilots in the next five years. Officials point out that during those five years some pilots would retire, others might be declared medically unfit and yet others might accept jobs in foreign airlines. “It would be more appropriate to say that we would need at least 3,000 more pilots in the next six years,” said the official.
Training more home grown pilots would also resolve what is turning into a tricky issue —that of Indian pilots resenting the hiring of foreign pilots by the two national carriers.
Air India’s attempts to recruit foreign pilots have already come in for sharp criticism from the Indian pilots. Allegations that have been levelled by Indian pilots, albeit off the record, range from questioning the foreigners’ comprehension of the English language to straight out protests that foreign pilots are being paid more than the Indians.
The airline, for its part, doesn't have a choice. “We can either have sufficient pilots to fly our planes or ground the planes,” an official explained.