Picture this: 35 flying schools in India churn out only 150 pilots every year. While with the boom in the aviation sector India would need 10,500 pilots by 2010, the supply could fall short by a huge gap.
With shortage in the number of chief flying instructors (CFIs), limited number of aircraft, and large number of students, flying schools in India are facing a critical situation. Aspiring Indian pilots do not have many options and are now moving out of India for their training.
Analysts blame this situation on the 35 flying schools, of which only 18 are functional. Says a source, “It’s not only the shortage of CFIs but also the shortage of aircraft, coupled with the large number of students that makes it impossible for them to function.”
The flying schools are facing a hard time employing CFIs. Says Lt. Colonel VK Nadar Chief Manager, Ahmedabad Aviation and Aeronautics, “The pay of a CFI at a flying school is a lakh or two but a similar stint in the airlines can fetch them Rs3-4 lakh. We got a CFI from Canada, but he left us within six months. Then there was a CFI from Australia who left us in three months. We are also facing difficulties due to the lack of air space. We hardly get 15 flying hours due to an increase in flying activities. Hence we are shifting to the air fields in Mehsana.”
While getting it straight from the horse's mouth, one comes to know that the real issue is money. Says Captain AK Mohan, CFI, Jamshedpur Cooperative Flying Club, “Among the pilots, we get the lowest salary in India. The future is not as bright as it is for commercial pilots working with airlines. One would rather go to an airline and fetch better salary. This is the main reason that flying clubs are turning non-functional one after the other.”
Having spent 16 years in the profession, Capt. Mohan has worked in flying schools across the country. “Everywhere the problems are the same. Aspiring pilots have to wait for months and sometimes years because of infrastructural problems and most of the times, because there are no instructors,” he adds.
The numbers bring forth the stark reality. While there are vacancies for 5,200 pilots, only 4,100 Indian pilots and 560 expatriates are available.
Flying schools in metros have problems of their own. “In Mumbai and Delhi, where there are 35 flight movements in an hour, there is hardly any space for training. Hence flying schools are located in remote areas where the mandatory 200 flying hours can be achieved. The closest students can go to is Baramati, which too has many problems. Hence they come back and move out of the country,” says a source.
“We get 44 inquiries, 22 mail inquiries and personal visits by aspiring pilots each day. As there is no flying activity in Mumbai, students have to either apply to other states or go abroad. Most of the students are going for the latter option.
There can be a way out of the trap. “If the DGCA becomes liberal in giving licences to private pilot training school which have all the required amenities, then the situation might come under control,” says Lubna Kadri, Director, Indian Aviation Academy, Mumbai.
The Academy has opened a flying school in UAE, which will start its classes from May. “Though we are opening a school in UAE., our priority remains to train aspiring Indian pilots,” she says.
Says Akshit Shah, (name changed) an aspiring pilot, “I went to a flying school in Baramati. But there were 120 students undergoing training with just nine aircrafts. At that rate, I would have had to wait for a year or more to complete my flying. Most of the flying schools in India resort to malpractices. Some resort to proxy server, a system whereby the students fly for ten minutes and record in their diary that they have flown for an hour, this happens with the full knowledge of the instructors.”
While it takes two-and-a-half years for students to complete their pilot training in India, it takes just eight months or a year, elsewhere. According to aviation analysts the flying schools in India do not have much to offer.
The pilots churned out are not as good as those trained abroad. Says Kapil Kaul, CEO, Indian Subcontinent & Middle East, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), “Indian flying schools do not produce proficient pilots. Doing training abroad is easier as there is no shortage of aircraft, no additional fuel costs, better instructors and world class infrastructure.
In India the flying schools are of poor quality. The DGCA should look at lesser number of flying schools, which can provide good quality training and upgrade those schools, whereby more and more students can learn.”
He calls for investing more funds in our flying schools. “A change in the FDI structure, and looking at investments afresh is the need of the hour,” adds Kaul.