Mumbai: Chastened by the 2008-09 economic slowdown, many of India’s cabin crew academies have diversified from instructing women aspiring to become flight attendants to training them in customer care services, airport duties and even teaching general social skills such as attending kitty parties.
Cabin crew academies mushroomed on the back of a boom in the aviation sector in 2004-07, when domestic carriers decided to buy nearly 500 aircraft over a five-year period. Some of these institutes even planned initial public offerings (IPOs) to raise money for expansion.
But the subsequent slowdown hit the industry hard. “Many institutes were wiped out or shifted their focus to customer care services from cabin crew training. The business during 2007-2009 was down by 50-60%,” said K.S. Kohli, chairman, Frankfinn Institute of Airhostess Training, based in Delhi.
Kohli conceded his business had also been affected, but said with the aviation sector recovering this year, it is now on the mend. “Though we are not diluting our focus on air hostess training, we are diversifying into soft skills training for first impression for people of all walks of life.”
Frankfinn has developed a concept it calls “first impression studio”, under which it offers courses for cracking interviews and trains housewives in attending kitty parties.
“We have developed a small course for foreigners visiting India under ‘Hello India’ brand, while there is ‘Take Off’ course for Indians visiting abroad. There are special soft skill training courses for entrepreneurs and corporate executives,” Kohli said.
His institute has hired consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Llp to advise it on the makeover. It also plans to hit the market with an IPO in the next 24 months and will soon hire an investment bank, Kohli added.
Mumbai-based Avalon Academy, run by Aptech Ltd, has started offering courses in personality development, aircraft maintenance engineering, airport management, customer care and ground handling, says its website.
“We realized in 2008 that the airline industry is not working well. But the paradox was airport infrastructure was growing,” said Ravi Dighe, head of Avalon Academy and an executive vice-president of Aptech. “With aviation infrastructure demand catching up, we structured our programmes for airport management. We had incorporated personality grooming and other soft skills in the curriculum.”
Gurcharan Bhatura, secretary general of the Foundation of Aviation and Sustainable Tourism, an independent non-profit research body, said the progression came naturally to cabin crew academies.
“The disposable income of middle class is fuelling the tourism industry. The demand for workforce in the sector is huge. Customer satisfaction is key to this service industry. Air hostess training academies could easily transform themselves into organizations that can train workforce for tourism industry with soft skills,” he said.
But not all academies have been able to make the turn.
Kingfisher Airlines Ltd, country’s second largest airline by passengers carried, started the Kingfisher Training Academy in Mumbai in April 2007. Though the academy remains open, it did not expand the way it had been envisaged.
“With the slowdown, many airlines have stopped expanding the cabin crew training branches,” said an airline consultant, asking not to be named.
AHA Aviation and Hospitality Academy Pvt. Ltd of Delhi was earlier exploring plans for an IPO; the slowdown forced it to cease operations and it is now struggling to get back into business. A former executive said, on condition of anonymity, that the company is facing some functional issues, without elaborating.
The airline consultant mentioned above said many fly-by-night operators had appeared during the boom years, offering guaranteed job placements to their students.
“But most of them disappeared with the economic slowdown,” said the consultant. “For an institute, it will be tough to resurface again as they lost credibility in the first episode. There were criminal cases against many of these promoters.”