New Delhi: India’s aviation regulator plans to do its bit to reduce unemployment among the country’s pilots by introducing new rules that will make it mandatory for airlines to hire two locals for every expat, but not necessarily for duties in the cockpit, according to two officials aware of the matter.

India has about 350 foreign pilots, down from 800 four years back. The country’s airlines had been required to phase them all out by December 2013.

This deadline is to be extended to 2016 by the regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), provided the new condition is met, said one of the two persons cited above. The second person confirmed the development. Neither wanted to be named.

For every pilot from overseas on the rolls, an airline will need to hire two unemployed commercial pilot licence (CPL) holders and give them alternative jobs such as flight dispatchers or in radio telephony. They can be given jobs as co-pilots based on merit, whenever vacancies open up, the first official said.

“This will address the issue of unemployment to some extent and they will be in an aviation environment instead of sitting at home," he said.

The official said he gets hundreds of requests from high court judges, senior bureaucrats and members of Parliament recommending pilots who are friends or family for jobs.

The formula is being worked out, said the second official.

India has more than 4,000 unemployed CPL holders. In 2009, the government had asked the airlines to phase out pilots from overseas on their rolls by July 2011 so that Indian co-pilots could be promoted. This deadline kept getting extended and the latest one is December.

Air India Ltd; Jet Airways (India) Ltd; Kingfisher Airlines Ltd; IndiGo, run by InterGlobe Aviation Ltd, and SpiceJet Ltd all employ foreign pilots.

It’s unclear if qualified Indian pilots, typically at the apex of the employee pyramid in an airline, will take a flight dispatcher’s job, said an analyst. The job generally entails preparation of all the paperwork for a flight such as weather reports, fuel planning and loads on the aircraft.

“It will only make it worse for the unemployed pilots," said Mohan Ranganthan, an aviation safety analyst and a member of the government-appointed Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council. He said DGCA should have enforced the December deadline.

“The deadline was made in 2010 for 2013. For three years, none of the operators planned properly and DGCA failed to monitor. If the regulator had functioned as a regulator and pulled up the failure of operators to plan for the future, theyhave to be blamed. SpiceJet had regular training programmes to promote their own first officers. If the other airlines have failed, they are to be blamed, along with DGCA, who did not enforce the clause in the CAR (civil aviation requirement) for FATA (foreign aircrew temporary authorization)."

SpiceJet does not employ any foreign pilots except on its smaller Bombardier Q400 aircraft inducted recently. Indian pilots aren’t yet skilled enough to fly the plane.

Prospects for fresh aviation school graduates aren’t likely to improve any time soon, said aviation consulting firm CAPA Centre for Aviation. “There are many, many who are jobless," said CAPA South Asia chief executive Kapil Kaul. “There is a serious concern among CPL holders. There isn’t unfortunately any solution in the near term."

An aspiring pilot needs to spend roughly 35-50 lakh on training to get a flying licence depending on where the person trained and on what aircraft type. If funded by a bank loan, the repayment could be as much as 35,000-50,000 per month over a year-and-a-half.

CAPA said it will take a long time for the 4,000 unemployed pilots to be absorbed as airlines have slowed the induction of aircraft as the market has eased up.

Shakti Lumba, a former vice-president of Air India and IndiGo, said the aviation ministry should find a more amicable solution to the crisis.

“The aviation ministry should accept CPL equivalent to graduation for all civil aviation jobs, including those in the Airport Authority of India, DGCA and Air India, and CPL holders (have) to be given priority for self-employment in airport, commercial spaces, porter services, aircraft cleaning services, (among other options)," he said.

Pilots also need to renew their licences if they don’t get a job, which means spending another 5-7 lakh. By the time there’s space for some of these unemployed CPL holders, they may not have skills “relevant" to the market, said Kaul. “They will have to do something else. They will have to find alternative employment," he said.

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