Retire expat pilots, regulator warns; meeting tomorrow

Retire expat pilots, regulator warns; meeting tomorrow

New Delhi: In a move that could help some of the estimated 3,000 unemployed Indian pilots to find jobs, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has sternly warned Indian carriers to retire expats flying their aircraft by June or face the risk of their operations being curtailed.

An aviation boom led to the launch of several new carriers in the middle of the decade amid a shortage of local pilots, forcing the newcomers to recruit foreigners to fly their planes.

The same boom also encouraged several young Indian students to train for a pilot’s career before the slump in aviation last year led airlines to reduce capacity and sack staff, grounding several fliers.

To convey the seriousness of its warning, DGCA has called a meeting of all the airline chief executive officers on Friday in the capital.

“The government is trying to help the unemployed pilots and implement the phase out (of expats) plan," said a senior official at a Mumbai-based carrier, who didn’t want to be named.

Beyond June, airlines would need to justify having expat pilots on board. The regulator would grant approvals to keep expat pilots only on a case-to-case basis.

There are around 500 expat pilots employed at Indian carriers, said a DGCA official, who too asked not to be named. “We will be reviewing the progress of the airlines" in implementing the directive, this official added.

With about eight months left to meet the deadline, airlines will have to make sure they have enough Indian pilots who are qualified to move to the commander’s seat from being a co-pilot.

The airline official cited above said one full-service carrier, not his, has about 50 Indian co-pilots who are fit for command but who aren’t being promoted. “This will force carriers to do that," the official said.

When an Indian pilot is upgraded to the commander’s seat, it will allow an unemployed pilot on the ground to take over the co-pilot’s vacant position, he added.

The DGCA needs to first freeze the issue of fresh expat licences, said Mohan Ranganathan, an air safety expert and a former pilot.

“On one hand, when the deadline is 1 July 2010, the fact that they are issuing permissions for expat pilots, while there are many Indian co-pilots who can be upgraded, beats logic", he said.