Expat pilots fail English tests

The dire shortage of pilots may have led private airlines to hire expats, but apparently too many of them fail the oral English tests conducted by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) that are now essential to operate aircraft in India. Industry sources say that 15 to 20 per cent of expat pilots fail to clear the DGCA's mandatory English test conducted under the Aeronautic Information Circular (AIC-7) and have to be sent back by their airlines.

The DGCA had to start conducting these English examinations last year, after a sharp rise in the number of incidents arising out of miscommunication between expat pilots and air traffic control.

Airlines now find themselves wedged between a rock and a hard place, as getting pilots from non-English speaking countries like Poland, Bulgaria and Romania is of no help — they find it hard to clear the English test. On the other hand, trained pilots from English-speaking countries are very expensive.

As many as 1,000 of the 4,000 pilots in domestic aviation are expats, and flying permission for another 80 to 100 expats is pending with the DGCA. Airlines pay expat pilots between $9,000 (Rs3.68 lakh) and $11,000 (Rs4.5 lakh) per month, about 10 to 15 per cent more than what Indian pilots earn. In addition, they are entitled to housing and other perks.