Mumbai: The civil aviation regulator has stopped issuing licences to American pilots who are above 60 years of age, to fly planes within India, in a move that could significantly impact domestic airlines that are already facing acute pilot shortages. The regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), cited the current US rules that don’t allow pilots to fly after the age of 60 for its decision, even though the US has said it will change its rules within two years.
An Indian pilot is typically allowed to fly up to 65 years, subject to certain conditions.
“If America is not allowing a pilot to fly after the age of 60 in their country, how can I give a licence to these pilots to fly in India?” asks Kanu Gohain, director general of civil aviation, the regulator of civil aviation. “The mother licence issued by the mother state (US) itself is not allowing pilots after 60. Who am I to change that in India?”
“At least, 30 applications for US pilots from various airlines are pending before the Indian regulator. At present, there are nearly 100 such pilots flying in India,” says a person familiar with the development, but who didn’t want to be identified.
This person said airline representatives are meeting with the ministry of civil aviation later this month to try and resolve the issue. There are approximately 560 foreign pilots working in India currently. The ratio between Indian and foreign pilots is 6:1.
Indian airlines are getting young pilots as a result of their own training programmes, but India already requires some 1,000 additional pilots, including 600 captains, or more experienced pilots, as domestic carriers add more planes to their fleets.
And the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, a consulting firm, estimates that the country will require around 3,000 additional pilots in the next five years.
Domestic airlines operating Boeing planes such as Air India, Air India Express, SpiceJet and Jet Airways are going to be the ones most affected as many of these relatively older American pilots were primarily flying such jets.
Gohain did admit that the Indian government is aware of the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) plans to change the rules. “We are waiting and watching FAA’s move. We will take a decision according to the US regulator,” he said.
The FAA chief had said in January that the increased age limit would take two years to come into effect.
US pilots who work for foreign airlines are currently allowed to fly into and out of the US until they turn 65.
A senior executive of one of India’s premium airlines said it was a matter of experience. “A pilot cannot be unfit to fly after 60,” he said. “We understand the safety is of paramount importance. But seniors bring in wealth of experience,” he added.
“US pilots are a good source for us. Stopping the issuance of licence to them will shoot up cost of hiring for airlines. Now, these pilots are trying to secure a licence from countries such as Australia and Canada,” said Siddhanta Sharma, executive chairman of New Delhi-based low fare carrier SpiceJet.
Indian carriers are allowed to bring expatriate pilots subject to plans that show how they will train Indian pilots to replace the expats within a given period of time.
However, Indian pilots say there are double standards already at play.
“While Indian pilots above 60 are asked to do strict and ridiculous medical examinations, American pilots are not even asked to appear for any such tests,” claims a senior pilot who commands a widebody plane with a state-run airline.