Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Of all jobs in aviation, that of the pilot is possibly the most critical, and, therefore, the most-sought after. This isnít only because of the huge salaries pilots earn, but also due to the sheer excitement of controlling a machine that soars like a bird in the skies, says Usha Albuquerque

WITH one more company "threatening" to start a new airline, it is probably the best time to take wings and fly! As the skies open to many more flights and cheaper ones too, more and more number of people are travelling by air, for both business and pleasure. This has meant a revival in the entire tourism and aviation industries, with increasing job opportunities for trained flying professionals not only with domestic airlines, but also international ones.

Of all jobs in aviation, that of the pilot is possibly the most critical, and therefore, the most-sought after. This isnít only because of the huge salaries pilots earn, but also due to the sheer excitement of controlling a machine that soars like a bird in the skies.

Although traditionally, the pilotís job has been almost exclusively for men, more and more women are now coming into this profession with a fair degree of success. Aviation has been a major opening for women, particularly in the area of flying. Besides the traditional air hostessí role, it is as pilots that a large number of women have already made their presence felt.

The pilot is responsible for the safety of passengers, crew and the aircraft during the time the plane is in motion. The pilot must be familiar with the functioning of all instruments and controls in the aircraft, be updated with meteorological information and detailed flight plans and be prepared at all times for the unexpected. The work includes briefing the crew and supervising loading and refuelling. Pilots must continuously use their training and skill in the use of the sophisticated computerised instrument systems in the aircraft, and maintain contact with air traffic control. Most flights have two pilots and duties are shared with the co-pilot, particularly on long flights.

How to become a pilot

The training to become a pilot is a long and arduous one, conducted in three stages, and enough to deter all but the most determined. A basic requirement for taking up any professional assignment as a pilot is a commercial pilotís licence (CPL) issued by the Director General, Civil Aviation.

Students pilot licence (SPL): To enroll for training you must register with any of the 35 flying clubs in the country, and take the SPL tests in Air navigation, Air Technical, Air Regulation and Aviation Meteorology. For the complete list of the DGCA approved flying schools log on to

Eligibility: 10+2 with maths and physics; minimum age 16 years and a medical certificate.

Private Pilots Licence (PPL): Once you have successfully cleared the SPL, you can start flying training with an instructor or trainer. You need to complete 60 hours of flying, of which 30 hours should be solo flights and five hours cross-country. There is also a theory exam of five papers in various subjects of air navigation , aircraft engines and seamanship, after which the PPL is given.

Eligibility: 10+2 with an SPL

Commercial Pilotís Licence (CPL): After a PPL you will have to train for another 190 hours including solo flying, cross-country flying, and day and night landing to qualify for the CPL.

Also five theory papers on advanced aspects of flying and navigation.

Helicopter pilots too need to pass a written exam in air regulation, aviation meteorology, aircraft and engines for the preliminary private helicopter pilots licence (PHPL). Thereafter, another 60 hours flying experience followed by a written exam makes you eligible for the CHPL, or a Commercial Helicopter Licence.


The only formal flying training academy in India is the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Academy at Rai Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. Here selected candidates get training and flying experience, leading to a CPL as well as Helicopter Pilots Licence.

The rising cost of fuel has made flying training expensive and you must be prepared to pay more than Rs 2 lakh for a PPL and between 8-15 lakh for a CPL, depending on where you train, whether in India or abroad. Many students go for training abroad, as due to the shortage of trainer aircraft in the country, it may take you years to clock in the necessary 250-300 hours of flying time required for training.

Other requirements

Although the thrill of flying can be very attractive, those who take up this profession need to possess certain qualities. A pilot has a very critical job. The lives of all passengers and crew on the flight depend on his ability to handle a crisis. A pilot, therefore, needs to have above-average intelligence, ability to be alert at all times, quick reflexes, mental agility, high standard of physical fitness, self-confidence, leadership qualities, and an ability to take instant decisions. Medical fitness is very essential, and there are regular medical checks, every six-12 months for pilots.

Pilots spend long and irregular hours on a flight, particularly over long distances, and so can experience fatigue and jet-lag. A pilot has to be 100 per cent alert all the time, and take split-second decisions when necessary. They may also be required to stay in different places, depending on their travel schedules.

Jobs for a pilot

Pilots are recruited as trainee pilots and work for a year or so under the supervision of a senior pilot. The first independent job is as a co-pilot. Promotion to Captain/ Commander can come after about eight-10 years of service. The Captain of an aircraft has the total responsibility for the aircraft, crew and passengers.

While the pilot is trained to perform navigating tasks, a few aircraft still need the services of a flight engineer, who has to carry out an inspection of the aircraft before the flight, during the flight and after landing.

Truly the sky is the limit for pilots, but on a more earthly plane while there is a huge requirement for pilots, most private carriers are not willing to invest in training pilots for the particular kind of aircraft they use. Indian Airlines, Air-India and some private airlines take on trained pilots with a CPL and a minimum of 250 hours flying experience as trainee pilots. Further training is imparted at the respective airlinesí training centres, where pilots are put through rigorous technical training on various aircraft of the airline, as well as courses in high-altitude meteorology, navigation, flight planning and flight safety. Trainees are also put through training on a simulator, which enables them to learn complicated instrument procedures and emergencies before actual flight training. Only after all these stages are completed does the pilot

obtain Type Endorsement on the licence from the DGCA for flying a particular aircraft. Training for each type of aircraft doesnít come cheap either. Training and endorsement costs for different aircraft, including the Airbus 320, Boeing 747, can be extremely expensive and range from Rs 10-15 lakh. Moreover, each time a pilot moves over to another type of aircraft, he / she will have to undergo special training for that aircraft and obtain the Type Endorsement.

Most private airlines expect candidates to pay for the training and endorsement. They recruit fresh CPL holders and pay them a stipend during the training period, which could last four or six months. Once confirmed with the necessary endorsement, commercial pilots are paid handsomely ó between Rs 8-12 lakh annual starting salary, and generous allowances like housing, medical and outstation allowances as well as free concessional air passages for immediate family and dependants.. This remuneration, to some extent, compemsates for the high cots of training.. Moreover for those who like it, travel itself can be a rewarding experience

A pilot can get a job for flying passenger and cargo flights for a domestic or international airline, or with organisations that maintain their own aircraft. With the sudden spurt in demand for pilots, on an average four to 10 pilots are required per aircraft, private airlines are offering huge salaries for experienced pilots who have the endorsements required, often poaching on the national carriers for trained professionals.

However, commercial pilots can also explore the option of joining the Indian Navy, which is taking the CPL holders in its aviation division under the short service commission. Alternatively, you can look for a career in the Air Force where you not only get your flying training paid for, but fly some of the most sophisticated aircraft available.

Helicopter pilots are absorbed in Pawan Hans and with corporate organisations such as the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), where helicopters are in use.

So, if you have a yen for flying, are willing to invest a large amount of money and time, you can look forward to a life of travel and excitement.