Weak demand grounds half-a-dozen flying schools in TN

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on October 18, 2021

Demand of around 14,000 pilots is expected by 2027-28 in India.   -  The Hindu

Students may have to move to other States or overseas to acquire skills; dependence on foreign pilots to go up

Even as the government‘s ambitious Udan programme connecting smaller cities by air is gaining momentum and the need for pilots is set to grow exponentially, half-a-dozen flying schools in Tamil Nadu have shut down. This development has forced the students to move to other States or even outside India to gain flying skills.

Experts worry that, in the long run, India’s dependence on foreign pilots will increase and this will fly against government’s Atmanirbhar Bharat philosophy.

This is because, Tamil Nadu used to produce hundreds of pilots till a few years back. Flying institutions, including Tetra Aviation in Salem; Sha Shib flying school, Salem; Southern Pilot training academy, Salem; VKN Aviation Trichy and Coimbatore Flying Club (CFC) have shut down in recent past.

The Madras Flying Club (MFC), which used to operate from inside the Chennai airport, has shifted to Tiruchi last year. Similarly, Orient Flight School (OFS), which started in Chennai a few years ago, now operates from Mysuru.

Factors behind closure

The closure of flying schools was due to a combination of factors like unfavourable policy, weak demand outlook, poor revenues, high asset servicing costs and low liquidity, said Anand Jacob Verghese, Chairman, Orient Flying School and Vice-President of The Aeronautical Society of India.

“All limits of unco-operative bureaucracy have reached its maximum extent, raising the ugly head of poisoning and killing any entrepreneurship spirit in promoting unique, out-of-the-box, risk-taking business,” he said.

However, senior officials at both Airports Authority of India and the State government blamed it on the flying schools. According to them, flying schools were unable to attract students. “We are ready to support them,” they added.

Demand for pilots

Demand of around 14,000 pilots is expected by 2027-28 in India. To meet this demand indigenously, around 2,000 pilots will need to be produced per year.

Mohan Ranganathan, former aviation instructor pilot and alumnus of MFC, started his career with Tamil Nadu government scholarship for the first 70-hour and had subsidised flying to complete commercial pilot licence requirements. Slowly, the government support dwindled and only the rich could afford it. Post-1990, the government showed no interest in supporting MFC, he said.

However, MFC’s honorary Secretary Jacob Selvaraj countered that the Tamil Nadu government has been extending full support. The government has allotted two acres of its land adjoining the Tiruchirapalli airport to the club for setting-up comprehensive infrastructure and facilities.

A ‘liberalised’ policy for Flying Training Organisations from the State Government is the only hope to get the flying schools back in action.

Published on October 17, 2021

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