NEW DELHI: With India facing a severe shortage of pilots, especially commanders, the government has extended permission for foreign pilots to work in Indian carriers by two years by shifting the deadline to phase them out from this year-end to December 31, 2020. India currently has 290 expat pilots in its total pool of over 7,000 pilots with desi airlines and the new 2020-end deadline fixed by DGCA is unlikely to be the final one as Indian carriers are inducting turboprops in large numbers for which there are not enough Indian pilots. In fact, the number of expat pilots here is expected to shoot in coming months.
“At present, schedule Indian airlines have over 7,000 pilots for their combined fleet of over 600 planes. This year itself the shortage is of over 250 pilots. Given the order books of our airlines, 1,100 aircraft are supposed join in 7-8 years that will require over 10,000 additional pilots,” said CAPA India head Kapil Kaul. These numbers are only for schedule airlines, with the pilot requirement for charters, regional connectivity players and private jets being separate.
Kaul added these are conservative estimates and the requirement of pilots may further increase when Indian carriers increase their wide body operations — with currently only Air India and Jet operating twin aisles. Vistara has placed an initial order for 6-10 wide bodies and this number expected to increase from the Tata Group airline alone significantly in coming time.
“We have kept the same condition while extending the ‘foreign aircrew temporary authorisation’ (FATA) that Indian carriers must train local pilots and upgrade them into commanders after meeting all requirements. The number of expat pilots at one time had gone to over 600 and is now down to half since foreign pilots cost a lot more than their desi counterparts,” said a DGCA official.
However, upgrading a co-pilot to commander takes years as they have to complete certain number of hours and clear exams. “Turboprops like ATRs that are being ordered in large numbers do not have enough Indian co-pilots to fly them, forget commanders. Budding Indian pilots have till now shown more inclination for jet engines planes and now whether start opting for turboprops remains to be seen. Since getting a pool of Indian ATR commanders itself will take years, the FATA deadline will need to be extended again,” said a government official.
Indian airlines now routinely do head-hunting abroad to woo pilots from other countries like the Gulf where a number of Indian pilots are working. “In the Gulf, they get tax free salaries and also get to fly the biggest planes. But given our compulsion of large number of planes joining the fleet, we have to get trained pilots from wherever available,” said a senior pilot.