Foreign pilots in demand as fleets expand

Foreign pilots in demand as fleets expand

Airlines have started lobbying the aviation regulator for a blanket five-year clearance to employ foreign pilots, preparing to expand their combined fleet strength by one-third in anticipation of a coming boom in passenger traffic.

The industry also wants the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to give airlines the flexibility to offer expat pilots three-year, renewable contracts. They are also seeking easier security procedures for the foreign staff.

Top executives of domestic airlines, including Jet Airways (India) Ltd, Kingfisher Airlines Ltd and Air India, met director general Nasim Zaidi in New Delhi last week to voice their demands, said people familiar with the development.

“It’s not just a requirement from a (flying) skills perspective, but from a safety perspective," said one of the airline officials who attended the meeting, but didn’t want to be named because the proposal is still under discussion. “If we don’t have a Fata (foreign aircrew temporary authorization), which is globally allowed for five years or more, in the long-term you will not attract the best pilots."

Some 150 aircraft are expected to join India’s airlines by 2015, adding to the 400-odd they currently operate, and creating 1,500 pilot jobs. Airlines are expanding in the anticipation that accelerating economic growth will boost passenger traffic, which has grown 20% year-on-year so far in 2010.

The regulator has told the airlines, which have 600 expats among 4,000 pilots, to phase out the foreigners by July to create jobs. India also has around 4,000 fresh-out-of-college unemploy-ed, inexperienced pilots who can’t command aircraft.

Safety expert Mohan Ranganathan said expats should be allowed with riders that existing Indian co-pilots will be upgraded. “The future captains are the current co-pilots," he said. “If you do not recruit them and let them gain experience, you are not going to get experienced pilots to be upgraded to captain’s position in the future."