India will need 1,000 new pilots a year

The worldwide aviation industry will need 18,000 new pilots and 24,000 new mechanics each year for the next 20 years, a recent study has indicated. The global airline industry will acquire another 25,000 planes by 2025, apart from the 17,000 planes already in service, and a shortage of pilots and other key support staff is a near certainty, unless the industry can get its act together.

Alteon Training, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Boeing Company, has estimated that 360,000 pilots and 480,000 new mechanics will be needed by 2025. Boeing's Commercial Aviation Services group recently came up with these numbers. Alteon says that in India, the number of pilots will increase from about 3,000 to more than 15,000, while China will need more than 2,000 pilots a year or for the next 20 years.

Pilot poaching
The rapid growth of India's aviation sector has led to a shortage of pilots, while airport infrastructure operates at close to or greater than capacity. Attracted by higher compensation packages, pilots have been moving to new start-up carriers, and airlines that lose out have been forced to cancel services or even ground aircraft.

Airlines in India have are in the process of working out a no-poaching pact in view of the crunch in skilled staff. At a recent meeting in New Delhi called by the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), certain protocols were unofficially arrived at, mainly that a pilot wishing to join a rival airline would have to give six months notice, and submit a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the former employer.

However, under section 27 of the Indian Contract Act, it is unlawful to restrict an employee from joining another organisation, unless there are determinant factors mentioned in the contract at the time of joining. It is to be seen how airlines get past this obstacle. In any case, earlier attempts at establishing a no-poaching agreement between airlines have not succeeded, and it remains to be seen whether this one will.

On its part, the government has increased the retirement age of pilots by one year, but airlines are still to develop their own solutions, all of which are likely to incur significant increases in costs.

New training schools
In the meanwhile, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) and the Canadian Aviation Electronics (CAE) have signed a memorandum of understanding for a joint venture to develop the National Flying Training Institute (NFTI), at an investment of approximately $25 million. Located at Gondia, hometown of Aviation Minister Praful Patel in Maharashtra, the institute, when fully operational, will train around 200 pilots a year.

Another 200 pilots would be trained by the Indian government's flight training academy, the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udaan Akademi (IGRUA), of which CAE is to become the managing partner of. The total output would grow to over 600 pilots with the Multi Pilot Licence (MPL) stream of licensing.