Mumbai: Domestic carriers may lose at least 100 pilots to Qatar Airways, which is on an expansion binge despite the economic downturn.
Other West Asian carriers such as Oman Air (SAOC), Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways and Air Arabia PJSC have also been aggressively hiring pilots in India, with average pay increases of as much as 30%, according to at least half a dozen pilots with domestic carriers who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Salaries of senior captains were between Rs7 lakh and Rs7.5 lakh a month in 2007-08, while slightly less experienced captains got Rs4.25-4.5 lakh. Salaries of co-pilots, or first officers, used to be Rs1.9-2 lakh a month. An aircraft needs two pilots in the cockpit,one senior pilot or commander and the other a co-pilot, who is also known as a first officer.
Attractive package: West Asian airlines are scouting for pilots as they go on an expansion spree, offering to pay an average 30% more. Charles Crowell / Mint
In the exodus, Jet Airways (India) Ltd is likely be hit the most, with at least 40—half of whom are senior pilots—deciding to jump ship, according to two senior Jet executives. Jet currently has about 800 pilots on its roster. Jet Airways chief executive officer Wolfgang Prock-Shcuaer did not return calls or respond to text messages to his cellphone.
The job offers come at a time when domestic airlines are negotiating with pilots for reducing salaries by up to 25%. Indian carriers face a collective loss of at least $2 billion (Rs10,100 crore) this fiscal year ending March because of excess capacity.
“Jet Airways had asked its senior management and pilots to take (a) cut in their salaries. Though pilots did not succumb to the pressure, they are looking for greener pastures. At least 40 pilots have indicated that they are leaving Jet Airways. And 50% of them are experienced senior pilots,” a Jet Airways pilot said on condition of anonymity.
Qatar Airways, on the other hand, is running an advertisement on its website calling for applications for captains and first officers. Earlier this year, the airline had two roadshows, one in January in New Delhi and in February in Mumbai, for fresh recruitment of Indian talent. “Exit of senior pilots is going to hit Jet Airways (India) Ltd, Kingfisher Airlines Ltd and SpiceJet Ltd. Still, carriers need senior pilots, (at a time) they are looking to get rid of (surplus) first officers,” said an analyst tracking aviation stocks at a Mumbai-based domestic brokerage. “However, there is huge demand for all types of pilots for middle east carriers since they are going ahead with their expansion plans.”
According to the Sydney-headquartered Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, an international aviation consulting firm, West Asian airlines are taking delivery of 50 widebody aircraft this year, accounting for 21% of total deliveries in 2009. These numbers could increase if loss-making Asian and European airlines defer or cancel some of their orders, it said.
This aggressive fleet expansion would mean increased demand for pilots, cabin crew and engineers.
“Flying hours in each Indian carrier have come down. Moreover, domestic carriers altogether have cut their capacity by 15%. It is the similar case with European and the US carriers. But West Asian carriers are on a hiring spree,” said a pilot with a domestic private airline on condition of anonymity.
The hiring spree from Qatar Airways comes on the back of a rapidly growing fleet; it is one of the world’s fastest growing network airlines.
The West Asian airline has been taking delivery of a new Boeing 777 practically every month since January, with plans to operate a fleet of at least 110 aircraft by 2013, which will largely have widebody craft.
Indian carriers, on the contrary, are cutting back as much as 15% on capacity.
The Jet pilot quoted earlier said Qatar’s package has better incentives such as medical cover for pilots and their families. “It has got more insurance cover and incentives for housing. But more important is Qatar’s package offers a better life style that is with more rest hours and options to choose flight hours etc.,” he added.
Sanjay Aggarwal, chief executive officer of Delhi-based low-cost carrier SpiceJet, told Mint that his airline has lost a couple (of pilots) to West Asian carriers, “but not in large numbers”. He did not divulge further details.
A person close to the development and involved in the recruitment process said these West Asian carriers have approached pilots with state-run National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, or Nacil, that runs Air India. “West Asian carriers are mainly eyeing Indian talent and pilots from Singapore Airlines,” he said.
“To resign at this point of time is risky since there is economic slowdown everywhere including West Asia and flying hours have come down. Moreover, we have got a marginal hike in salaries recently,” said a senior pilot with Nacil.
He said the main reason for Indian pilots joining West Asian carriers is the six months notice period from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the regulator. Under this, an Indian pilot is required to give a six-month notice to his employer if he wants to quit.
“This is purely one way. There is no condition for (the) employer. Indian carriers are also not having a long-term plan. West Asian carriers are offering great incentives to Indian pilots,” he said.