The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has stopped issuing licences for American pilots who are above 60 years of age to fly planes within India. The move could significantly impact domestic airlines that are already facing acute pilot shortages.
The DGCA cited current US rules that don't allow pilots to fly after the age of 60. But Indian pilots are allowed to fly up to 65 years, subject to certain conditions. However, the US has said it will change its rules within two years.
The DGCA had come under severe criticism for allowing US pilots barred from flying in their own country to operate in India, even without putting them through the stringent medical check-ups that are mandatory for Indian pilots over the age of 60.
Domestic airlines operating Boeing aircraft like Air India, Air India Express, SpiceJet and Jet Airways will be the ones most affected by the decision, as many of the older American pilots were primarily flying these planes.
At least 30 applications from US pilots for various airlines are pending before the Indian regulator. At present, there are nearly 100 US pilots over the age of 60 flying in India, sources said. US pilots who work for foreign airlines are currently allowed to fly into and out of the US until they turn 65
Airline representatives are meeting the ministry of civil aviation later this month to resolve the issue. Around 560 foreign pilots work in India presently, comprising a little less than 15 per cent of pilots in the country.
India requires about 1,000 additional pilots each year, as domestic carriers add more planes to their fleets. The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), a consulting firm, estimates that the country will require around 3,000 additional pilots in the next five years.
The DGCA says it is aware that US regulator the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to change the rules. But it will take a decision only after the US regulator, which expects that the increased age limit would take two years to come into effect.
India's airlines say the senior US pilots are good for them, and refusing licences to them will shoot up the cost of hiring for airlines. Indian carriers are allowed to bring in expatriate pilots only if they have concrete plans to train Indian pilots and replace the expats within a finite period.
But Indian pilots say there are double standards. While their compatriots over 60 are asked to do strict medical examinations, American pilots of the same age are not asked to appear for any such tests.