India needs 1,000+ pilots annually, but training infra in short supply

Given the growth in the aviation sector it is expected that India is likely to require over 1,000 pilots per annum over the next five years. However, experts have said that the country lacks the adequate pilot training infrastructure to produce trained pilots.

They also said that the number of commercial pilot licenses issued during the last few years is hardly enough to meet the rising demand.

As per the Ministry of civil aviation, a total 744 commercial pilot licenses (CPL) were issued during the year 2019 which came down to 578 in the year 2020. However, the number increased further to 862 in the year 2021.

A senior pilot said, “Demand of pilots is going to rise. Nearly 200 retirements are expected every year… But, we don’t have adequate infrastructure for this. Currently, a large number of pilots get training in other countries. After coming here, they need to undergo 20 hours of flying, including day and night and cross country for the issue of CPL by the regulator. Issuance of CPLs also takes some time.”

“Government has taken initiatives, but, lack of proper infrastructure at flight training organisations has been observed. There should be monitoring and audit of FTOs,” he added.

While the government has said that there is no shortage of pilots in India, it also admitted a marginal shortage of commanders on certain types of aircraft and the same is being managed by utilising foreign pilots by issuing Foreign Aircrew Temporary Authorization (FATA). There were 82 FATA-holders in India as on June 30, 2022, as compared to over 9,000 pilots employed with airlines in India, said a Parliament reply on July 28, 2022.

Recently, Air India planned to hire foreign pilots to meet its requirements on the Boeing 777 fleet through a placement firm and these pilots are being offered better pay, lucrative terms and generous benefits. However, many senior Indian pilots termed the move as a crazy initiative when India already has efficient and experienced pilots for Boeing 777.

Officials said that the government has taken multiple initiatives keeping in view the requirement of trained pilots. In 2020, Airports Authority of India (AAI) came up with a liberalised Flight Training Organisation (FTO) policy. In 2021, after a competitive bidding process, AAI awarded nine FTO slots at five airports at Belagavi (Karnataka), Jalgaon (Maharashtra), Kalaburagi (Karnataka), Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh) and Lilabari (Assam). As on 30th June 2022, four of these FTOs are operational, one each at Jalgaon and Lilabari, and two at Kalaburagi.

In June 2022, after a competitive bidding process, six more FTO slots were awarded by AAI at five airports namely: Bhavnagar (Gujarat), Hubballi (Karnataka), Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh), Kishangarh (Rajasthan) and Salem (Tamil Nadu).

A Parliamentary standing committee on Transport and Tourism in its recent report took note of the new initiatives saying, “The Committee supports the new initiatives of the Ministry as it is of the opinion that with the expected growth of the Civil Aviation Sector in the country, there would be increased demand for trained pilots. The Ministry should therefore gear up for the requirement of FTOs and set up FTOs in a time bound manner.”

Recommending more FTOs, the report said, “The Committee also recommends that keeping in view of the Atmanirbhar Bharat, sufficient Flight Training Organisations (FTOs) may be established in various parts of the country to ensure that our boys and girls are not going to foreign countries to get pilot training.”

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