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Jet, Deccan may spike plans for flight schools

Jet, Deccan may spike plans for flight schools

Mumbai: The turbulence in the domestic aviation industry has forced two leading airlines to rethink plans to set up training academies for pilots and aircraft engineers.

Jet Airways (India) Ltd, the country’s largest private airline, and Deccan Aviation Ltd, which runs India’s largest low-fare carrier Simplifly Deccan, had planned the facilities to fill gaps in their staffing needs when they were expanding operations.

But with domestic airlines facing a combined loss of $2 billion (Rs8,540 crore) in fiscal 2009, because of spiralling jet fuel prices and excess flights in the local market, these airlines are trimming both staff size and routes.

“Three years back, India needed an additional 2,000 pilots by 2010. Now, I would imagine the country is in excess of pilots," said an aviation expert, who has been tracking the industry for about two decades.

“There are more pilots than necessary now because airlines are grounding their flights and rationalizing routes. Already, domestic airlines have asked their foreign pilots to go back," he added.

“The dynamics of Indian aviation has changed from what we had thought at the time of conceiving this project," said a person familiar with the development at Jet Airways.

“With the economics of the industry changing, we are reviewing our pilot training academy project," he added, but didn’t want to be identified as he is not authorized to speak with the media.

Chief executive Wolfgang Prock-Schauer said over phone from Europe, “It is too premature to comment about that. There are various other things deciding the fate of this project."

Jet Airways, which had consolidated losses of Rs653.87 crore in fiscal 2008, was in talks with Brussels-based Sabena Flight Academy for a possible tie-up, and was scouting for land in Mumbai and some southern cities to set up a facility for training about 200 candidates a year.

Deccan Aviation, which was taken over last year by Kingfisher Airlines Ltd’s owner UB Group, had planned to establish a residential training centre at Bangalore by December 2007, at an estimated cost of Rs65 crore.

“With the current situation and ongoing integration programme with Kingfisher Airlines, we are not even thinking about such a project," a senior executive at Deccan Aviation said.

The airline had proposed a training centre with aircraft simulators (for ATR and Airbus type aircraft) to train pilots, engineers, flight dispatchers and cabin crew.

Deccan Aviation had narrowed its loss for the quarter ended 31 March to Rs199.65 crore from a loss of Rs213.17 crore in the corresponding year-ago period.

“In a growing market, airlines venture out to allied activities to boost revenues and source pilots through captive facilities," explained a Mumbai-based analyst, who tracks the aviation sector.

“But in the current situation, these companies do not have cash to run their core business, as jet fuel constitutes 45% of their operating cost," he said.

State-run National Aviation Co. of India Ltd (Nacil), which runs the country’s largest airline Air India, too has delayed its plans to set up training facilities.

Nacil was planning facilities in association with aircraft makers such as the US-based Boeing Co. and Toulouse, France-based Airbus SAS.

However, these projects cannot be scrapped as these are part of mega aircraft purchase contracts with Boeing and Airbus.

Private training institutes not run by airlines claim they are faring better.

“More candidates are enrolling with our academy, irrespective of the change in the scene," said S.M.A. Salam, director (training) with Yash Air Ltd, an aviation training centre based in Indore. “Though there’s no dramatic growth in the number of aspiring pilots, there is no slippage either," he added.

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