The civil aviation ministry has granted much-needed relief to domestic airlines, allowing them to employ expat commanders and keep them on their rolls until 2013, as the industry prepares to induct 240 more planes in three years to meet increasing travel demand.
The blanket three-year extension is also a shift from the government’s policy of granting yearly extensions, and is likely to help India’s airlines compete better with carriers in China and South-East Asia in hiring experienced expat pilots.
Foreigners now make up 15% of the total number of pilots in India.
“The deadline (to phase out expat pilots) was to lapse this year. We have now allowed it till 2013,” said a civil aviation ministry official who did not want to be named.
In 2009, the government had asked the airlines to phase out expat pilots on their rolls by July 2011 so that Indian co-pilots could be promoted.
Domestic airlines, under the umbrella of lobbying group Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), requested the regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), and aviation minister Praful Patel for a five-year window to hire foreign pilots and keep the current ones on their rolls, Mint reported on 28 September.
Air Inda Ltd, Jet Airways (India) Ltd, Kingfisher Airlines Ltd, IndiGo, run by InterGlobe Aviation Ltd, and SpiceJet Ltd are key members of FIA. With 419 aircraft, they have about 600 expats of a total of 4,000 pilots.
They expect to induct 240 aircraft over the next three years and 400 over the next five, requiring 2,500 pilots including 1,200 expats.
India also has about 4,000 unemployed and inexperienced pilots.
A senior executive at a domestic airline, who also declined to be named, confirmed that the decision to extend the deadline relating to expat pilots had been communicated to the carriers.
The consultancy Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation estimates that Indian airlines would require to hire 5,000 personnel, including 500-700 pilots and 1,200-1,500 cabin crew, for about 50 aircraft that will be added in 2011 to their fleet.
New expat pilots will have to comply with more difficult norms that were put in place after the May 2010 crash of an Air India Express plane that left 158 passengers and crew dead.
They would have to undergo more thorough medical checks before DGCA approval is sought to fly Indian aircraft.
“The long process means delays,” said a second senior domestic airline official requesting anonymity. “It takes at least three months now for an expat to fly after he lands in India.”