Airlines may need to hire up to 20 per cent more pilots for the current level of operations with the introduction of new duty rules announced by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

While pilots have welcomed the new norms, which enhance their weekly rest period from 36 to 48 hours, airlines are worried about an increase in employment costs as pilot salaries already account for over half of an airline’s wage bill.

“As per ballpark estimates, we could require 15-20 per cent more pilots for the current level of operations. For expansion, we will require many more, and our growth could slow down,” a senior airline executive remarked.

Duty patterns

An another clause in proposed rules that is worrying airlines pertains to night duty and restrictions on number of landings that pilots can make when their duty begins or continues during night.

For the purpose of night duty, the definition of night has been amended, and it will now cover the period from midnight to 6 a.m. instead of midnight to 5 a.m. under the earlier rule. The maximum duty time and number of landings that pilots can make are now restricted to two under the revised rules.

“There are duty patterns now where pilots have their first flight at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. Currently, they can be rostered for four flights within permissible duty time, but now, as per the new rule, pilots would be able to make only two landings, which means they can operate only two flights if their duty begins at 4 a.m. Thus, crew utilisation will come down, and that would create a requirement for more pilots,” a senior commander remarked. This could also result in airlines hiring expatriate pilots.

businessline sent queries to domestic airlines, but none of them replied at the time of going to press.

Impact on business

According to Kapil Kaul, CEO of consultancy CAPA India, the new rules will have a significant impact on operations and the overall business of airlines, given the shortage of pilots.

A pilot pointed out that regulations need to have well-defined parameters. “There should be no subjective clauses. Also, these should help in maintaining roster stability, which is essential for individual well-being. Unfortunately, the new rule simply says that airlines will publish rosters sufficiently in advance, and that is subjective in nature,” he said.

Shortage of pilots

The revised rule aimed at enhancing safety will come into effect from June 1 but industry officials said that they may push for more time.

“Implementing the new rules by June 1 looks unrealistic, and the government needs to give airlines more time. Where are airlines going to hire 20 per cent more pilots. All the Go First pilots have been hired by airlines. Even if we hire unemployed pilots and junior first officers, we will need to train them before releasing them for duty,” an airline source said