Mumbai: IndiGo, India’s largest airline by market share, will operate about 30 fewer flights each day for the remainder of the winter schedule as it battles a shortage of pilots.

The airline, run by InterGlobe Aviation Ltd, cancelled 49 flights on Wednesday, according to a company statement. With this, IndiGo has cancelled about 100 flights since Friday.

A senior IndiGo official, who didn’t want to be named, said the situation regarding pilots (shortage) is “pretty tight" but “we are managing it". The carrier, however, blamed Wednesday’s flight cancellations on “several factors like anticipated weather conditions on 14 February and NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen) at various airports".

“This resulted in extended duty times which then made it necessary to re-roster our crew and optimize our operations," it said.

The airline said “these medium term cancellations have been made to minimize the impact on passengers as alternative travel options have been offered well in advance".

The 30 flights comprised 2% of IndiGo’s total flights, it said, adding it expects to resume normal operations with the start of the summer schedule from 31 March.

IndiGo currently operates about 1,300 daily flights. It is expected to shortly start more international and domestic flights.

An industry official said, requesting anonymity, that the short-term fix for the current pilot crisis faced by IndiGo would be to hire foreign pilots, while seeking relaxations from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to bypass some of the stringent conditions required by overseas pilots to get a Foreign Aircrew Temporary Authorisation (FATA) licence.

“The industry as a whole is facing a crisis situation when it comes to pilots, especially commanders. This needs to be addressed as the capacity of the carriers are increasing and there are not enough pilots around," the person said.

Meanwhile, aviation advisory firm Capa India said on Wednesday that Indian airlines will need to hire about 17,000 additional commercial pilots over the next decade. The total pilot requirement from FY18 to FY28 is expected to be about 17,000, of which about 9,000 first officers are expected to be upgraded to commander level positions.

India had about 7,963 commercial pilots at the end of FY18.

As one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world, India has seen domestic airlines placing huge aircraft orders.

At present, domestic airlines are taking delivery of at least one aircraft a week.

Though, airlines have been steadily adding to their fleet, pilot shortage, especially that of senior commanders, is a major issue, and has led to several flight cancellations in recent days. 

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