IndiGo COO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer. The total pilot strength of the airline currently stands at about 3,100, including trainees. (Bloomberg)
IndiGo COO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer. The total pilot strength of the airline currently stands at about 3,100, including trainees. (Bloomberg)

IndiGo steps up hiring of expat pilots amid flight cancellations

  • IndiGo COO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer says the airline will hire 120 expat pilots by June 2019, taking their total number to 160
  • Pilot shortage is a reality with all Indian airlines, but IndiGo is affected more due to its aggressive expansion plans

Mumbai: Several senior expat pilots of IndiGo (InterGlobe Aviation Ltd) have left the carrier in the last few months, prompting India’s largest domestic carrier to hire new ones amid a spate of flight cancellations. As of 15 December 2018, the number of expat pilots at IndiGo stood at 93, among a total 324 expat pilots at all commercial airlines, minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha told Parliament last month.

IndiGo currently has 40 senior expat pilots in a flying crew that consists of 1,260 captains, a senior official of the airline said.

IndiGo has had to cancel a large number of flights over the past few days because of pilot shortage, apart from the partial closedown of the Bengaluru airport due to Aero India 2019, runway closure at Mumbai airport for six hours on alternate days and bad weather, according to industry officials.

IndiGo’s chief operating officer (COO) Wolfgang Prock-Schauer said the airline will hire 120 expat pilots by June 2019, taking the total strength of expat pilots in the airline to 160. The total pilot strength of the airline currently stands at about 3,100, including trainees.

“IndiGo currently maintains a ratio of about 6.65 captains per aircraft, which I think is a good number," he said.

However, Prock-Schauer said that though there’s an evident shortage of senior pilots in the industry, IndiGo has been able to retain its senior pilots and has been promoting about 260 first officers to captains every year.

“In our case we are in a position to retain (pilots). We are big (in pilot strength) and have enough trainers and simulators available," Prock-Schauer said.

IndiGo, which operates about 1,300 daily flights, said on 12 February it is adjusting its flight schedule in the coming days by approximately 30 flights per day to stabilize the network and operations impacted because of various ongoing NOTAMs (notices to airmen) and bad weather. “These adjustments amount to 1-2% of the originally planned number of flights," it had said.

The situation is expected to normalize by March-end, Prock-Schauer said. “(We) need a little breather till (the) end of March," he said.

IndiGo has denied media reports that it cancelled 130 flights on Friday.

Indian airlines will need to hire about 17,000 additional commercial pilots over the next decade, aviation advisory firm Capa India said in a recent report.

Total pilot requirement from FY18-FY28 is expected to be about 17,000, out of which about 9,000 first officers are expected to be upgraded to commander level position.

An industry official said that pilot shortage is a reality with all Indian carriers, but IndiGo is affected more because of its aggressive expansion plans.

“The situation, if not handled promptly, could get worse with the airline taking delivery of new aircraft every week," the official said.

IndiGo has inducted about 19 Airbus A320-family aircraft in the past four months and is likely to add at least 40 more aircraft in the year ending 31 March 2020 after inducting about 62 this year, Capa India said.

The airline, which also operates smaller ATR aircraft, has 430 Airbus A320-family jets on order, on top of a previous deal to buy 100 narrow body jets.

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