The demand for pilots, cabin crew and engineers has risen along with the increasing number of flights and airports. This licensed personnel are required in set numbers due to regulatory requirements, and the costs to companies because of a shortage are substantially high.
Each narrow-body aircraft needs between 5-7 sets of the flight crew, 2-3 sets of cabin crew and 2-3 sets of licensed personnel in each field of engineering (depending upon the type of operation) and a wide-body aircraft the figures more than double.
A big shortage of pilots two years down the line — estimated at around 2,000 — could drive up costs for airlines. While employee costs constitute around10% of an airline’s overall revenues, the need to pay pilots more may push up expenses on this front.
Although the country has over 5,000 commercial pilots currently, data from KPMGFicci reveal the sector could need close to 9,000 pilots in another two years. The planned expansion apart, carriers would also be looking to add aircraft now that they can fly overseas even before they have completed five years of operations provided they have a fleet size of 20.
The civil aviation regulator DGCA typically issues about 800-1,000 commercial pilot licences (CPL) every year, which would mean the country would have around 7,000 pilots by 2018.
However, the growth in the number of pilots doesn’t appear to have matched the growth in fleet size. The current fleet size — commercial as well as chartered — is 850 and going by the orders placed, this should go up to around 1,000 by 2018. This would imply that against a requirement of 9,000 pilots for 1,000 planes, the supply will be closer to 7,000. Carriers are ideally required to have 10 pilots for each aircraft they operate. According to sector experts, the shortage will be higher because even after a pilot graduates from a flying school and gets a licence, he needs further training and cannot fly immediately.
“Pilots, as well as engineers, will be a major problem in the future. One reason the projected fleet growth for this year is only 110 aircraft is because of pilots. There are lots of people in India who have CPL and PPL (private pilot licence) but in spite of that they are out of jobs as training on any one specific aircraft can be unaffordable to a lot of pilots with valid CPLs,” Dinesh Keskar, senior vice-president of sales in India for Boeing, told FE. He added that it
takes $48,000 to train a pair of pilots.
Currently, the DGCA recognises 30 flying schools across the country. It takes nearly two
years for a trainee pilot to obtain a CPL but the pilot still needs to be trained on specific aircraft by an airline for a few months before being cleared for flying commercial jets.
- Indian pilots with experience: In the last few years, there has been a drastic shift in the hiring trends (of aviation professionals) in India. Increased hiring by the carriers in the Middle East resulted in a large number of experienced captains leaving the country. This in turn has further increased the demand (and created a shortage) for experienced pilots.
- Indian pilots without experience: Presently, the only talent available in Indian aviation in abundance is the ab-initio first officer. These pilots have the basic CPL and some are even type rated but do not have experience on type. Airlines have identified this and are exploiting the situation with high costs to sit for the entrance exam, very high costs for their airline training and a bond that some consider unconstitutional in India. The readiness for candidates to pay large amounts for an opportunity to attempt the airline induction is leading some airlines to use it as a source of revenue generation and can be considered as an unhealthy practice. The unfortunate part is, there are still takers for these jobs and candidates are buckling under the pressure to pay these airlines to get experience on type.
- Expatriate Pilots: A solution available so far to airlines has been the use of expatriate line captains as well as trainers in order to ensure that the flight operations are not affected due to the pilot shortage. The financial struggle of the airlines in the US and Europe post 9/11 and the economic downturn post the Lehman brothers going bankrupt provided a number of pilots available to fly in India on commuting terms.
However, the situation has changed in the last 12 months with airlines in the west returning to profitability, a large number of retirements and a forecast pilot shortage in the US has meant that fewer pilots are available to take up expatriate contracts. The aggressive hiring by the Middle East carriers, expansion in Indonesia, China, the rest of Asia and Africa has only made the pool smaller.
Aircraft Maintenance Engineers / Technicians
There are 77 training institutes for AME training in India which provide basic training to issue a basic license. These institutes provide about 5000 AME graduate trainees per year. The trainees that pass out then get the experience as technicians with airlines (Often by paying a sum to the airline) before they pass their requisite DGCA exam to get a type rated license.
Due to the rapid expansion, there has been a gap between supply and demand in the past which has now been bridged to some extent after Kingfisher airlines stopped flying.
However, the average experience level of the AME’s has reduced and the shortfall remains as other airlines absorb more aircraft to meet the growing demands. In addition to this, a large number of AME’s are being employed to feed the growth of the middle east carriers, leaving the positions for talent in India vacant.
Currently, the largest recruitment drives are being carried out by airlines across the country in an attempt to recover from the wave after wave of exodus to the Middle East carriers and meet the fleet expansion.
Airlines in India are unable to match the salaries and perks being offered in addition to the attraction offered by the Gulf carriers, of flying to far off destinations. The added tightening of regulations by the DGCA for cabin crew training has only added to the pressure on airlines training costs.
Shortage of cabin crew and the severe strain on the training system is bound to have a negative impact on the quality of service provided to the customer. As has been seen in the past in India, neglecting cabin crew standards have a direct impact on customer satisfaction and thereby, the profitability of an airline.