Despite the government asking all domestic airlines to reduce their dependency on foreign pilots, the number of expatriates flying for Indian carriers increased during the year 2018, data from the Ministry of Civil Aviation show. The total number of foreign pilots hired by scheduled and non-scheduled Indian airlines rose to 324 as of December 15, 2018, against 313 as of January 1, 2018. The number dipped to 298 as of August 9, 2018. This is despite a majority of airlines reducing their strength of foreign pilots during the period.
India’s largest carrier IndiGo, which now has more than 200 narrowbody aircraft employed the highest number of foreign pilots at 93, higher from 59 in August and 87 in January last year. The only other carrier that saw a rise in number of expatriate pilots on its roster during the 12-month period was Air India’s regional subsidiary Alliance Air at 66 in December, compared with 45 as of January 2018.
In his answer to a question in the Rajya Sabha last month, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha said: “All airlines, scheduled and non-scheduled, have been advised to develop their own in-house strength to reduce the dependency on the foreign pilots. Airlines are required to submit their phase out plan of foreign pilots periodically. Further, the government has extended the use of foreign pilots by Indian carriers upto December 31, 2020 in view of shortage of type rated pilot-in-command/instructor/examiner in the country”.
Even as the number of foreign pilots has increased, it still comprises only a small part of the total pilot strength hired by Indian carriers. As of September 2018, IndiGo hired 2,697 Indian pilots, compared with 81 foreign pilots. Jet Airways, India’s second largest airline, had 28 foreign pilots as of September against 1,620 Indian pilots.
In May last year, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation issued amendments to rules for licensing of foreign pilots by domestic airlines, and as per the norms, the regulator asks the air operators to state the number of expatriate pilots phased out by them.
While the foreign aircrew temporary authorisation (FATA), for which the new rules were published, is issued temporarily to overcome the shortage of trained senior pilots in the country, the government is also moving towards reducing the dependency of foreign pilots.
As per the previous rules, initially, a FATA was issued to a pilot for a period of three months, after which, if an extension was required, the foreign pilot was required to pass Air Regulations examinations, and upon passing that exam, the authorisation was extended “for a period of nine months or as decided by Director General subject to the overall policy of the Government”.
The new regulations amended the nine-month extension provision to “a maximum period of one year at a time or as decided by Director General subject to the overall policy of the Government”.
While airlines in India hire expatriate pilots to meet the shortage of trained senior pilots, it is considered to be an expensive proposition for the companies, considering foreign pilots are paid more than their local counterparts.
The DGCA norms also stipulate each airline a limited number of foreign pilots on their roster for a limited period, till such a time they are able to train and upgrade the Indian pilots to replace the expats.
In an answer to a different question in Upper House, Sinha had said last month that keeping in view the projected requirements of 1,043 aircraft to be inducted by scheduled domestic airlines over a period of next eight years and air crew/aircraft utilisation, there will be an anticipated requirement of about 12,516 pilots in the country.