Flight Plan

Demand for more flight schools soars

TE Rajasimhan | | Updated on: Jan 09, 2022
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Pilot shortage is hurting airline operations in India, with the industry expected to need at least 1,000 to 1,500 pilots every year

India’s Regional Connectivity Scheme is finally witnessing some traction, but what might hurt its growth is the acute shortage of trained pilots.

One doesn’t have to look far for the reasons for such a situation. The country just doesn’t have enough infrastructure to help train manpower for the airline sector. For example, the number of flying schools (Flying Training Organisations (FTOs)) in India is too less, thereby forcing students to go abroad to get training.

Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Minister VK Singh recently told Rajya Sabha that out of the total commercial pilot licenses issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the share of foreign-trained cadets is about 40 per cent.

FTO policy improvement

The government’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat policy is a welcome move and in September 2020, the Centre came up with a liberalised Flying Training Organisation (FTO) policy wherein the concept of airport royalty (revenue share payment by FTOs to Airports Authority of India - AAI) was abolished and land rentals significantly rationalised, as an incentive to increase the number of locally-trained pilots.

As a follow-up, the AAI issued letters on May 31, 2021, and October 29, 2021, for setting up of nine FTOs at five airports at Belagavi and Kalaburgi (both Karnataka), Jalgaon (Maharashtra), Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh) and Lilabari (Assam). The soft launch of two FTOs at Kalabuargi was carried out on August 15, 2021, under the government’s liberalised policy. At present, there are 32 FTOs approved by the DGCA in the country, which has the capacity to train around 350 pilots every year.

In October, BusinessLine wrote about the closure of a number of flying schools in Tamil Nadu. This forced the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) officials to swing into action and two MoUs were signed in November to set up FTOs in the State. As a result, the Hyderabad-based start-up Hercules Aviation Training School (HATS), founded by Indian Air Force veterans, will soon commence operations at Salem, while the Chennai-based Orient Flying Schools will operate in Ulundurpet. TIDCO had identified that the visual flight requirements for flight school are superior in Tamil Nadu with over 330 days of clear skies. A senior TIDCO official said that by 2030, Indian commercial aviation would have about 2,000 aeroplanes (excluding private jets) from the current 600. Therefore, the country needs a large pool of trained pilots who can be onboarded as and when more aircraft are inducted by airlines.

Lack of trained pilots

Several international studies, including one from Boeing, has highlighted that there is a huge shortfall of trained pilots in India. According to Abhinav Singh, a retired IAF pilot and Founder and CEO of HATS, the country needs at least 1,500 pilots per year to meet industry demand. “There are eight new flight schools coming up in India, including ours, which is expected to start operations by January. It is important to increase the capacity of aviation training infrastructure and continuously work towards improving the quality of training as well,” he added.

Orient Flights Pvt Ltd is another organisation that is setting up an FTO on a 25-acre campus. According to the company’s Vice-President, Milton Huggins, the campus will have a library; hangar; aircraft; flight simulator; ATC and hostels for boys and girls. He pointed out that for an airline that operates international flights, a wide-body aircraft requires 10-11 sets of pilots. For domestic operations, deployment of a narrow-body aircraft requires a minimum of seven sets of pilots per aircraft. He said trainee pilots pay thousands of dollars abroad to complete their flying training. “One can easily save foreign exchange if more training facilities are based out of the country,” Huggins added.

“Unfortunately, some of the Indian flying clubs are very old and have not been able to keep up with the times. This forced students to go abroad for training. New FTOs will certainly be a boon to the aspiring generation because of substantial reduction in training cost and training cycle,” said B Govindarajan of Tirwin Management Services, an aviation training firm.

“Even though the current eligibility to become a pilot is 12 years of schooling, the emerging opportunity provided by the FTOs will certainly attract graduate engineers of southern States to become pilots.Following the government of Tamil Nadu, other State governments are expected to take similar steps, thus contributing to Atmanirbhar Bharat, making India self-reliant on the critical requirement of home-grown professional pilots,” Govindarajan added.

Published on January 10, 2022

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