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AAI’s disused airfields may be turned into pilot academies

India has 32 training institutes that produce about 300 pilots against the requirement of 800 a year.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Oct 04, 2019, 09.53 PM IST

India’s pilot shortage, especially of commanders, is increasing as airlines expand aggressively.

NEW DELHI: The government has started work on a plan to turn airfields belonging to the staterun Airports Authority of India (AAI), including non-operational ones, into pilot academies to help meet burgeoning demand in India and overseas. India’s pilot shortage means that the country’s fastexpanding carriers have to hire foreign pilots or even cancel flights at times.

“The aviation ministry’s view is that the country has human capital and the plan is to produce enough pilots so that we are able to meet not just India’s demand but also become a pilot supplier to the world,” said a top government official who sought anonymity.

India’s current capacity is not enough to meet the country’s needs, he said. It has 32 training institutes that produce about 300 pilots against the requirement of 800 a year. Jet Airways pilots, for instance, found jobs quickly with other carriers after the airline stopped flying recently.

The official said the plan is to activate as many airports — either non-operational or used only sparingly — as possible. AAI, which manages 126 airports, has about 50 such fields. “There could be various other airports or airstrips that could be used for pilot training,” said another official.

The AAI board has approved the proposal and formed a three-member panel headed by former Indian Air Force chief Fali H Major to decide on the number of airports that can be offered to pilot schools.

Air Force chief Fali H Major is an independent member of the AAI board. The others on the committee, which is to submit its report in three months, are Vineet Gulati, AAI’s member (air navigation services), and Anil Gill, deputy director, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

The idea came from director general of civil aviation Arun Kumar, also a member of AAI’s board, said persons with knowledge of the matter. Experts said the initiative will need to be augmented by other measures.

“There are things like weather, visibility and Air Traffic Control factors that should be taken into account while deciding on the airports that will be shortlisted for flying institutes,” said Shakti Lumba, a former pilot who used to head operations at Air India and IndiGo. Lumba added that the government will also have to provide incentives.

“Flying training in India is more expensive than many other countries, and one of the reasons is taxation on fuel for trainer aircraft,” he said. “The government will also have to look at the option of providing subsidies to make this scheme a success.”

India’s pilot shortage, especially of commanders, is increasing as airlines expand aggressively.

According to industry estimates, the country now has about 8,000 pilots and its airlines will require an additional 17,000 in the next 10 years. There is also global demand for pilots, especially from carriers in China and the Middle East.

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