Indian airlines are facing high attrition as their international counterparts have been hiring Indian pilots, cabin crew and ground handling staff to fill gaps in their global operations. Recently, BusinessLine had reported that at least two out of three director-level pilots, who quit Jet Airways, were hired by Korean Air. Similarly, sources say that Vistara and IndiGo, too, have lost good talent to international airlines post-Covid. This comes even as a large number of international airlines have seen disruption in services and overcrowding in airports due to the lack of adequate staff.

Recently, Qatar Airways Group said it is looking to recruit a significant number of staff for various roles across India. Earlier this year, British Airways, too, hired multiple candidates from India.  A recent report from Naukri.com said there was a 56 per cent increase in hiring within the aviation sector in August, compared to the same time last year. An industry expert explained that as Indian skies are also opening up, Indian airlines are grappling to hire talent at the earliest. 

A top executive with a low-cost carrier said it has been on a hiring spree for the past two months because “several pilots and cabin crew have been hired by international airlines. Not only that, we’ve seen attrition in flight operation roles, digital team, international sales”.

But why are Indian candidates being hired? Experts point out that there are multiple reasons for Indian candidates to be picked over others. One of the major reasons is that the cost of hiring an Indian employee is lesser than candidates from other countries. 

The demand for roles such as senior pilots, cabin crew and maintenance technicians has increased drastically after the global recognition received by Indian pilots in the US, said the first expert, while the other said that Jobs for Indian pilots are plentiful throughout the Gulf and South-East Asia, as a result of the rapid growth of the aviation industry there. Indian pilots are in demand with many international carriers, including Lion Air, Silk Air, Scoot, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. 

Sanjay Shetty, Director, Professional Search & Selection and Strategic Accounts, Randstad, said: “The demand for Indian pilots in the global market has increased drastically in the past couple months. Indian pilots have also been recognised for their soft skills like adaptability, quick problem-solving, team work and interpersonal communication, along with technical qualifications like Airport Strategy and Functioning, Cargo Management and Handling, Staff Management, Safety and Security Management.”

The other reason, especially for pilots, according to Ajoy Thomas, Vice-President and Business Head, TeamLease Services, is the country’s excellent track record in domestic aviation safety. 

“Because of a shortage of local talent, many developing nations have employed pilots from larger countries like India. At the moment, between 6-10 per cent of pilots working for multinational corporations are Indian. After obtaining a commercial pilot’s licence, a pilot is just as eager to find permanent work as any other professional. The cost of training, no matter how prestigious, is wasted if the recipient never puts what they’ve learned into practice,” he explained. 

Retention strategies

In order to make sure their good talent isn’t lost, Indian airlines, too, have rolled up their sleeves. While some airlines like Akasa have raised salaries for pilots.  “Airline companies are offering retention bonuses and high-marginal hikes to attract top talent which makes them attractive employers especially after the slowdown caused by the pandemic,” said Shetty.

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