India may require around 1,000 commercial pilots every year for the next five years considering the increase in air passenger traffic. While “quantity” may not be an issue, the quality of pilots that come out of the flying training schools could be, say experts.

The number of commercial pilot licences (CPL) issued in India to cadets in the last three years was 862 (2021); 578 (2020); and 744 (2019), Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation VK Singh said in a written reply to a question raised by Tamil Nadu’s Member of Parliament P Ravindranath if the government plans to establish more flying schools across the country.

There are around 9,000 pilots employed by various airline operators in India. Given the increase in the volume of air passenger traffic, India may require around 1,000 pilots per annum over the next five years.

The government has taken several steps to establish more flying schools across the country to train a greater number of commercial pilots. In 2020, the Airports Authority of India came up with a liberalised FTO policy wherein airport royalty payments (revenue share payments by FTOs to AAI) were abolished and land rentals were significantly rationalised.

In 2021, after competitive bidding, AAI awarded nine FTO slots at five airports: Belgavi (Karnataka); Jalgaon (Maharashtra); Kalaburagi (Karnataka); Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh); and Lilabari (Assam). As of June 30, 2022, four of these FTOs are operational.

The DGCA has modified its regulations to empower flying instructors with the right to exercise authority for flight operations at FTOs. This was hitherto restricted to the Chief Flying Instructor or deputy chief flying instructor only, the minister said.

Aviation experts feel getting the number of pilots every year will not be a problem. However, the issue is the quality of those coming out of flying schools. Aircraft are getting more sophisticated with lots of technology.

Future airlines are to be managed by pilots since many other functions of an airline such as maintenance, ground handling, distribution, in-flight and even accounting will be outsourced to gain economies in operation, says B Govindarajan, Chief Operating Officer of the Chennai-based Tirwin Management Services (P) Ltd, an aviation consultancy firm.

When it comes to ensuring knowledge, enhancing the minimum educational qualifications with a focus on science and engineering may provide an opportunity for the emerging pilots to get an insight into the machine that they will be handling.

Since the number of training schools in India may not be in a position to meet the growing demands, it may be the right approach for Indian scheduled, non-scheduled and private operators to partner with renowned training schools and develop a pilot grooming programme, as is done by many global airlines, said Govindarajan.

“It is not just the quality. The Flying Training Organisation is not Walmart. You need qualified professionals to man the fields. Merely filling up the required numbers can prove dangerous. Modern airliners are good and automation levels are high. With experience levels dropping and training standards diluted, it is not a safe future ahead, said Mohan Ranganathan, an independent airlines/aviation professional.

They need qualified instructors and infrastructure like Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi in different parts of India. Govts. (both State and Centre) should infuse funds. Flying should be affordable, not just for people with money. They need to identify people with an aptitude for flying and train them, he said.