We need to move Pilot training to India – Jyotiraditya Scindia

Recently Union Minister for Civil Aviation, Jyotiraditya Scindia said “At present, we need 9,500 pilots…over 40% of pilots go abroad for training.…again there is forex outgo. The training cost of a pilot is around INR 1.5 – INR 2 Crore We’ve to move flying/pilot training here.”

Hoping to make India a global flying training hub, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has announced setting up eight new academies across five airports — Belagavi and Kalaburagi in Karnataka, Jalgaon in Maharashtra, Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, and Lilabari in Assam in July 2020.

India requires an estimated 1,000 pilots annually to meet its traffic growth, as the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted air travel and reduced manpower requirement. Indian pilot training institutes face several challenges, such as sub-optimal fleet size, high rent, old fleet, a lack of an adequate number of trainers, weather-related issues, etc.

(Image Courtesy – Flying Magazine)

Before 2019, the growth of the sector ensured that these pilots found job opportunities. For instance, between July 2018 and March 2019, numbers from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) show that aircraft in use by scheduled operators rose from 620 to 691. With an estimated 8-12 pilots needed to operate a narrow-body aircraft, and 18-20 needed for a wide-body, that puts the number of new jobs at around 800, since most of these additions are narrow-body aircraft.

Under the Narendra Modi government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat plan, these Flying Training Organisations (FTOs) are being set up to prevent aspiring commercial pilots from having to receive training abroad. 

Bids were awarded in May 2021 to aviation firms Asia-Pacific, Jetserve, Redbird, Samvardhane and Skynex.

“These are Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects where land is leased out to the winning FTOs at throwaway prices for 25 years. The entire year’s rent payable to AAI (Airports Authority of India) is around half the fee of just one cadet.

The concept of airport royalty or revenue share to AAI has been abolished. There can’t be a bigger statement of intent by the government.”

Amber Dubey, Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation

The Modi government wants to ensure that these academies will be at par with top FTOs from across the world in terms of fleet, infrastructure and instructors.

“The exodus of cadets will be reversed under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan at any cost,” Dubey said, adding that India will take three years to become a flying training hub.

Why pilots go overseas

According to a written reply by then Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri in the monsoon Rajya Sabha session in 2020, India currently has 9,073 pilots employed by airlines. Another 9,488 will be required in five years.

India, though, issues commercial pilot licenses (CPL) only to 700-800 candidates annually, of which about 30% of pilots have trained abroad, according to the reply in Rajya Sabha.

Their reasons for going abroad depending on time, money and an abundance of human resources.

As of August 2020, India had 32 FTOs approved by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), which trained around 500-550 pilots annually, as enumerated above.

But training in India can take up to three years to finish what international schools teach in 8-12 months. An absence of a streamlined regulatory process also hinders potential growth.

“In countries like the US and Canada, CPL exams are conducted on demand. The cooling-off period is just 24 hours. In India, it’s three months,” Harsh Vardhan Pratap Singh, managing director of the training institute, Falcon Aviation, told ThePrint. The cooling-off period is the time mandated between attempts to clear the CPL exam.

Captain Jati Dhillon, chief executive of training school Insight Flyer, echoed Singh. He also noted the lack of a proper schedule, with even exams for pilots delayed. “Tata Consultancy Services conducts exams for the Indian Railways … why can’t they do the same for aviation?” he said.

Dubey blamed the delay in exams on Covid-19. “We are looking for policy options to allow online interviews instead of physical ones, given the situation,” he said.

(Image Courtesy – Flight Safety Foundation)

But that is not all. Procuring a license is also a time-consuming process. “The DGCA has put in place too many rules and regulations such that it can take up to three months to get a license in India,” Dhillon added.

He also argued that flying school aircraft get grounded very often and the directorate of airworthiness — under the DGCA, to measure an aircraft’s suitability to fly safely — takes an “undue” amount of time to clear it for take-off.

A shortage of engineers only makes this process longer. “There are just four certified engineers in the country for a Piper PA-34 Seneca (training aircraft),” he said.

RedBird Aviation currently has 10 aircraft based in Maharashtra’s Baramati while 10 more have been ordered and delivery is underway. Falcon Aviation has eight functional aircraft in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh) and Rewa (Madhya Pradesh), and five are under maintenance which will join the fleet by year-end.

The government-run Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udaan Akademi (IGRUA) in UP’s Raebareli has 18 aircraft.

Human resources issue

India’s slow process also stems from a shortage of human resources. According to the DGCA Civil Aviation Requirements, a flying school needs a Chief Flying Instructor (CFI) and a deputy CFI to remain operational.

RedBird Aviation has four CFIs and two DCFIs; Falcon Aviation has just one DCFI and one flight instructor with authorisation privileges, and IGRUA has one CFI and two DCFIs.

“Human resources are freely available abroad. They have mastered the act of managing qualified manpower in engineers, CFIs, examiners, etc,” Singh said. 

But this, Dubey said, is an artificial shortage caused by previous policies. “Many qualified flight instructors who have thousands of flying hours were languishing as Assistant Flying Instructors and Flying Instructors. They can now apply and get DCFI/CFI ratings subject to clearing the requisite proficiency tests at DGCA,” he added.

Training cost in India

Flying schools cost a lot of money. But academies in the US, Canada and the Philippines —  three popular destinations among aspiring Indian pilots — have programmes that cost less than what it would in some Indian schools.

Training at RedBird Aviation and IGRUA costs INR 42 lakh and INR 45 lakh, respectively. Falcon Aviation charges INR 29.9 lakh, inclusive of accommodation and simulator training. 

(Image Courtesy – Aviation World)

“We use legacy aircraft which helps bring the costs down. This is DGCA approved,” Singh said, adding that nearly 80% of the training fleet abroad consists of legacy aircraft.

The cost of training to get a CPL varies between Rs.30-50 lakhs, depending on how long it takes to clear all the exams, practical and written. On top of that, pilots have to spend a minimum of Rs.15-20 lakhs to get a “type-rating”, which certifies their ability to fly a certain aircraft, like an Airbus 320, or a Boeing 787.

Fligh schools in India

India generally issues commercial pilot licenses (CPL) to 700-800 candidates annually, of which about 30% of pilots train abroad. Reasons for going abroad depending on time, money and availability of human resources. Under the Narendra Modi government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat plan, numerous more Flying Training Organisations (FTOs) are being set up over the existing capacity to prevent aspiring commercial pilots from having to receive training abroad.

List of all DGCA approved pilot training academies in India

S.No.NameLocationNo. of AircraftTypeRating
1.Asia Pacific Flight TrainingHyderabad4Private8.3/10
2.Academy of Carver AviationBaramati7Private6.5/10
3.Alchemist AviationJamshedpur5Private6.7/10
4.Ambitions Flying ClubAligarh4Private6.2/10
5.Ahmedabad Aviation & AeronauticsAhmedabad3Private7.3/10
6.Bihar Flying InstitutePatna4Government5.8/10
7.Banasthali Vidyapith Gliding Flying ClubTonk3Private6.8/10
8.Blue Ray AviationOsmanabad5Private6.4/10
9.Cheetak AviationAligarh3Private6.8/10
10.Chimes Aviation AcademySagar14Private8.6/10
11.Flytech Aviation AcademyHyderabad5Private6.3/10
12.Falcon Aviation AcademyFaizabad12Private7.1/10
13.Government Aviation Training InstituteBhubaneshwar4Government6.5/10
14.Garg AviationKanpur9Private6.7/10
15.Global Konnect AviationPant Nagar5Private6.8/10
16.Government Flying Training SchoolBengaluru5Government6.4/10
17.Gujrat Flying ClubVadodara3Private5.9/10
18.Haryana Institute of Civil AviationKarnal7Government7.2/10
19.Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udan AcademyRaebareilly18Government9.2/10
20.Madhya Pradesh Flying ClubIndore8Private6.6/10
21.Nagpur Flying ClubNagpur4Government5.2/10
22.National Flying Training InstituteGondia14Private9.6/10
23.Orient Flights Aviation AcademyMysore9Private8.2/10
24.Patiala Aviation ClubPatiala8Government7.2/10
25.Pioneer Flying AcademyAligarh5Private6.4/10
26.Rajiv Gandhi AcademyTrivandrum5Government8.1/10
27.Redbird Flight TrainingBaramati10Private8.9/10
28.Sha-Shib Flying AcademyGuna3Private6.7/10
29.SVKM NMIMS Academy of AviationShirpur3Private7.6/10
30.Saraswati Aviation AcademySultanpur3Private6.1/10
31.Telangana State Aviation AcademyHyderabad7Government7.5/10
32.Bombay Flying ClubMumbai8Private7.8/10
33.Wings AviationHyderabad9Private8.1/10

Indian pilots moving abroad in search of jobs

The scarcity of jobs in the Indian aviation sector is forcing pilots to move overseas in search of jobs. While there are jobs available abroad for Indian pilots, working conditions may not be suitable for forcing them to elsewhere or come back to India.

According to a report in the Statesman newspaper, Indian pilots often reach out to airlines in the Middle East or South-East Asia as countries there have several domestic and international airlines that readily hire Indian pilots. Lion Air, Silk Air, Scoot, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways are a few top airlines that offer jobs to Indian pilots.

The newspaper quotes Captain Vikram Yadav, a former official of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association, as saying, “Job security is just one of the primary reasons why pilots go abroad.”

(Image Courtesy – Fly Gosh)

He told the publication that as pilots are facing job shortages in India, they are attracted to the aviation job markets of other countries. To work as a pilot abroad, Indian pilots need a license from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

With India having a good domestic aviation safety record, foreign airlines are inclined to hire Indian pilots.

After obtaining a commercial pilot license (CPL), pilots need to accumulate flying hours to keep their license intact so many pilots end up taking jobs at every available airline or country. Aviation is a risky and costly business. There was a time when Indian airlines hired foreign pilots due to a lack of domestic pilots and there have been times when foreign airlines hire Indian pilots due to a shortage of pilots in their own countries.

What the government needs to do

The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has played a pivotal role in preventing Indians who aspire to be pilots from going abroad.

“A lot of training institutes abroad have shut down because of Covid. A lot of Indian students have lost their money after schools declared bankruptcy,” said Redbird Aviation president Karan Mann. 

While many in the industry believe that the government should stay out of the eight new FTOs in India, Captain Kunjal Bhatt, CFI at IGRUA believes otherwise. “It depends on the management and how it runs the show,” she told ThePrint. 

(Image Courtesy – CNN Travel)

Dubey said the quantity and quality of the fleet, infrastructure and instructors must improve, as does the monitoring by and responsiveness of the government, AAI and DGCA. “We need 5-6 large chains of flying schools with 30-50 aircraft each than the dozens of small fragmented ones that are anyway not sustainable,” he said.

Several airlines like IndiGo and AirAsia now offer cadet training programs, where they select students from flying schools at the beginning of their training and offer them a package that can cost up to INR 1 crore. Those who are selected have their training and type-rating taken care of and are also assured a job at the end. Industry experts say that this is becoming a popular option for the deep-pocketed.