Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pilot shortage in India: Airlines need type-rated ex-pat pilots

Air India Boeing 777-200ERAir India has a shortage of pilots, particularly those qualified to fly Boeing 777 aircraft. In fact, this shortage of Boeing 777 type-rated pilots has caused India's national flag carrier to temporarily suspend its passenger service between Kolkata and London, a route served by Boeing 777 aircraft. An airline official in Kolkata noted that, if not remedied soon, the pilot shortage could affect Air India flights to Chicago, New York and London from Delhi and Mumbai as well.

Air India, a government-owned carrier, currently employs about 800 pilots, 117 of whom are foreigners. Since there are too few Indian nationals with the needed type ratings and command experience on the Boeing 777, Air India employs ex-pat pilots to fill the vacancies. The Careers page on the Air India website specifies a current need for more ex-pat pilots who are already qualified to fly B777-200/300 aircraft. Online applications for these positions are being accepted now.

So, how did this situation come about? According to an article about the pilot shortage in the Times of India, the current crisis began when Air India's three-year contract with 20 pilots expired this month. Another 10 pilots have just retired. Most of those pilots were Boeing 777 commanders.

An article in The Hindu quoted an Air India spokesman who said that Air India was "expediting the pace of training of pilots and three Captains were turning out every month to fly B-777 aircraft." The carrier also sends young pilots for training to flying schools in the U.S., but this does little to fill the immediate need for experienced aircraft commanders. Thus, the airline is seeking qualified pilots from abroad.

Pilot poaching is another issue that comes into play. The article in The Hindu elaborates:
Some of the senior commanders told The Hindu that despite an unwritten “no-poaching” pact among airlines in the country as many as 31 pilots left JetLite, formerly Air Sahara, and now acquired by Jet Airways as its low-cost arm, over the past two months, and joined Kingfisher Airlines, which is an on a expansion spree after its promoter Vijay Mallya acquired a stake in Air Deccan.

“All these pilots who were operating Boeing 737 will be able to fly wide bodied jets like A-340 after a brief spell of training on simulators. The same pool of trained pilots could have been available to Air India for its B-777 fleet as it would have required just four sessions on simulators. As a majority of pilots are on contracts, there is no question of overtaking anyone’s seniority,” industry sources said.
The Hindu notes that private carriers in India employ ex-pat pilots, too. Jet Airways employs about 100 foreign pilots, IndiGo has 84 foreigners as pilots and Paramount Airways has 11, while cargo carrier Blue Dart has 10 foreign pilots, according to the Civil Aviation Ministry. In addition, some 900 of the 2,500 pilots employed in the civil aviation sector are foreigners. About five per cent are above 60 years and are from the U.S. The retirement age for pilots in India is now 65.

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