Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Staff crunch slows Take-Off
Snehesh Alex Philip

With a recent study pointing out that the global airline industry will need 25,000 planes by 2025, in addition to the 17,000 that will already be in service, a shortage of pilots along with other key crew and support staff is a major worry for the aviation industry, which is now exploring newer ways to beat the crisis looming large.

“The new planes will require more than 18,000 new pilots every year,” according to Alteon Training, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Boeing Company within Boeing Commercial Airplanes' Commercial Aviation Services group, which recently came out with the figures. It also adds that in total there would be a demand 3,60,000 pilots and 4,80,000 new mechanics over the next 20 years .

Alteon further says that in India, the number of pilots will swell from about 3,000 today to more than 15,000, whereas in China, airlines will need an average of more than 2,100 pilots a year or more than 43,000 in the next 20 years.

“There is no doubt that the industry is facing a shortage of pilots and other crew especially technical crew like engineers. With the kind of growth that the industry is seeing, the problem will become more acute if not tackled at the right time. Though some measures have been taken by the government, more needs to be done by everyone including the industry players,” says a senior official with the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA).

The Ministry of Aviation is closely studying the crisis looming ahead. “There are approximately 2,500 active pilots in India and we estimate that we will need up to an additional 5000 pilots over the next five years to meet the needs of the industry,” Praful Patel, Minister of Civil Aviation had said recently.

Demand outstrips supply

“There is an immediate need to find ways to find solution to the problem. The American aviation industry is a notch higher than us. It seems now they are trying to reduce the time taken for training pilots. If it can be done without compromising on quality, then we should also try to follow it. Moreover, the current number of passouts from various flying clubs and other centres are inadequate to fill the vacancies, hence more flying clubs should be promoted, adds the FIA official.

Even private airline players who are currently in expansion mode are concerned about the shortfall of pilots and technical crew. “The situation might not be critical when you are recruiting for one aircraft per month. Beyond that the system gets tested quite badly. The demand for well-trained crew will put a lot of pressure on the existing recruiting and inducting arm of every airline,” says Surajit Banerjee, vice-president HR, Spicejet, a private airline carrier.

“Given the academic levels in the country today and the demography, creating effective internal process will ensure that on boarding as per business requirement happens.

Therefore, if processes are in place internally, growth should not be impacted by any form of resource crunch,” he adds.

Alteon has now begun a beta test of ICAOs multi-crew pilot licence course (MPL) to determine if the competencies that cadets learn in this course make them at least equal, if not better than traditionally trained pilots. And in the process, reduce the time to become a first officer from 36 months to 18 months without compromising on quality, adds an Alteon spokesperson.

“Even we are trying to bring down the training schedule. As of now, one needs 200 hours of flying experience to get a licence and it takes around 24 months though we have students who have taken less time. But yes, a schedule can definitely be worked out to bring down the training time without any change in quality parameter,” says Govindaraj, Deputy Director, Orient Flight School, Pondicherry.

“I would not be able to say that reducing the cost of training is very much possible but such a measure would attract more students to go for pilot training. If you calculate the input cost like cost of airplanes, simulators, fuel cost among other maintenance charges, you will see that it is difficult to cut down the cost,” he adds.

Better training needed

Praful Patel had stated in Parliament that the government would take proactive steps to modernise and upgrade the pilot training system in India. Recently, Canadian Aviation Electronics (CAE) has signed a memorandum of understanding for a joint venture with the Airport Authority of India (AAI) to develop the National Flying Training Institute (NFTI). CAE has also signed a memorandum of understanding to become the managing partner of the Indian government's flight training academy: Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (IGRUA).

More than 400 pilots would be licensed annually through these new schools. The total output would grow to over 600 pilots with Multi Pilot Licence (MPL) stream of licensing.

Sources at the CII point out that India's aviation growth can be orchestrated into a larger opportunity for the country.

“There is a need to build capacities and capabilities in aviation; and to invest not only in pilot and ATC training but also growing the pool of technical and maintenance expertise in aviation,” says a senior CII official.

A report on HRD needs for the civil aviation sector, prepared by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, last year states, “At an industry-level requirement of 9 pilots per aircraft, India would need 5,400 pilots by the end of the 11th Plan period.

Thereafter, there will be a requirement of at least 150 pilots per year as replacements for retirements and other attrition, assuming an effective utilisable life-span of 40 years per pilot.

Tapping small towns

“At present, 100 pilots graduate from the 40 flying schools each year, out of which only 17 flying schools are operational. This describes well, the weak supply of pilots.” While the demand for pilots is growing, the airline industry's need for cabin crew seems to be taken care of, with the high number of youngsters who now throng various academies specialising in airhostess training.

“The huge number of students from the metros as well as the B-category cities are getting themselves enrolled in these courses is an evidence of their penchant towards this sector.

Men and women can both prove to be perfect host once they undergo the grooming and training session,” says Sapna Gupta, Director, Air Hostess Academy.

“What the industry really needs is reduced training time without any quality cuts, cheaper courses and more flying schools to promote youngsters to go in for pilot training.

Moreover, airlines should keep away from poaching of pilots from each other, as it will indirectly affect them only.

Checks should be taken so that pilots cannot leave any airline without any prior and decent notice period," says an aviation expert.

“Since this is a very expensive market for players, they should come together to weed out the problems that they jointly face. The good news is that now carriers are doing it and are also promoting and financing their crew and others to take up pilot training,” he adds. — PTI