A Parliamentary panel report on the civil aviation industry in India has pointed an annual requirement of 1,000 pilots and that only 200-300 pilots are being trained each year in the country. This is not only leading to a shortage of type-rated commanders but also increasing dependence on foreign pilots.
Revealing this in its latest reported tabled in Parliament on July 23, the Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture has asked the Ministry of Civil Aviation to give serious thought to setting up new institutes for pilot training and to revamp the existing institutes by providing modern simulators and also augmenting their capacity intake of students.
Grave Concern: Parliamentary Panel
Terming the shortage of pilots as a matter of grave concern, the Parliamentary committee observed that India has sub-optimal capacity and availability in terms of simulators, to train the required number of pilots.
According to the Parliamentary committee’s data, 1,882 commercial pilot licenses (CPL) were issued to pilots from Indian flying training organisations (FTO) in the past five years and another 1,113 foreign CPLs were converted to Indian CPLs during this period.
In 2016, the number of CPLs issued through Indian FTOs was 376. This went up to 430 in 2019 before falling to 303 in 2020, the year which was marred by lockdowns and other restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As far as foreign pilots are concerned, there were 537 conversions from foreign CPLs to Indian CPLs in 2016, which rose to 744 by 2019. In 2020, this number came down to 522.
The Parliamentary committee has also recommended that the ministry should envisage the setting up of a pilot training Institute adjacent to at least one airport in each state besides formulating futuristic plans for devising tailor-made technical courses for skill development, training and research, in consultation with the private sector.
Indian FTOs, according to the Parliamentary committee’s report, are facing several challenges like sub-optimal fleet size, high rent, old fleet, lack of an adequate number of trainers, sub-optimal facilities and weather issues. These are among the reasons why pilot students prefer to train outside India.
Pointing out that there is huge manpower potential and a skilled workforce available in the country, the Parliamentary committee pointed out that India has not been able to match the vast talent pool of skilled manpower with the requirement of pilots.
The Parliamentary committee has underlined the need for proactive action for skill development and training in the country to augment the skills of available manpower to meet the requirements of the Indian aviation industry, which has emerged as one of the fastest-growing markets in the world and has witnessed an exponential growth of airline fleet.
The pilot shortage is not a problem restricted to India alone. A recent news report in CBS said that during the pandemic, many airlines urged pilots and other employees to take early retirement and leaves of absence to cut expenses. But with a summer travel surge in in full swing, U.S airlines are seeing around 2 million travellers a day – nearly matching demand in 2019.
But now, the traveling public needs more pilots. Airlines that originally cut costs, are now instead creating incentives, offering hundreds and even thousands of dollars in bonuses, hoping to keep up with demand. They’re doing that to prevent more flight cancellations.
Another report in the US said that the industry needs to recruit lots of new pilots even before making any allowances for growth. A 2017 report by analysts at Cowen estimated that mandatory pilot retirements at the top five U.S. airlines combined would surge from 1,266 in 2017 to 2,397 by 2021, finally peaking at 2,641 in 2025.
Including other airlines, U.S. mandatory pilot retirements could exceed 3,000 annually in the mid-2020s. Moreover, the pace of retirements will remain elevated into the 2030s.
News websites said that replacing all of these retiring pilots won’t be easy since the U.S. military is also training far fewer pilots than it did a few decades ago, and training privately to become a commercial airline pilot is a long and expensive process.