Civil Pilot: Demand down but not out

Demand for civil pilots is skyrocketing. With the Indian skies opening up, it pays to have your head in the clouds and feet on ground

Ever since the adventurous Greek mythology character Icarus tried to fly with wax wings, mankind has been experimenting with flying machines of various types. But only in the last (20th) century did the homo sapiens succeed in flying heavier-than-air machines. In India the incorporation of the public sector Air India in 1948 and Indian Airlines in 1953 heralded the new age of commercial aviation. Since then as the nation’s air routes have opened up and multiplied, and a growing number of newer aircraft purchased, the demand for commercial pilots — the magnificent men (and women) who fly these wonder machines — has been rising steadily.

Flying clubs or schools provide practical training for aspiring commercial pilots who are obliged to acquire a commercial pilot licence (CPL) which is awarded to those who acquire flight experience over a wide range of aircraft with specified experience of solo, cross-country, instruments, night flying, and certain number of take-offs and landings etc. Initial training and experience is acquired in flying clubs which are authorised to issue a private pilot’s licence (PPL). To be granted a CPL requires practical flying experience as well as the passing of written exams in the areas of air navigation techniques, aviation meteorology, technical theory of flight and aero engines etc.

Unless a pilot passes the ground subjects and has completed 250 hours of flying as per the syllabus, he/she cannot be issued a licence. The 250 hours of flying can be completed through various flying clubs in India. It usually takes 18 months to complete 250 hours.

The Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (IGRUA), Rae Bareli, is the premier flying school in the country and is administered by the Union ministry of civil aviation. It has a training programme for granting CPLs, but the annual intake of IGRUA is only 100 students. An entrance test in aviation subjects of the PPL standard and a reasoning test is conducted in April. Shortlisted candidates undergo a pilot’s aptitude test followed by an interview.

Candidates who have passed the Plus Two exam with physics and maths and have a current Indian PPL with flying experience of at least 60 hours, including 30 hours of solo flying, in the last three years, are eligible for admission into IGRUA. There’s no age limit. The price of acquiring flying experience of 250 hours would be approximately Rs.22 lakh (including boarding) with candidates paying by the hour as they fly. Training for a pilot abroad could cost Rs.16–20 lakh but you can recover the investment within a year.

Apart from IGRUA, few other pilot training schools in India are:

Nagpur Flying Club
Delhi Flying Club
Government Flying Training School, Bangalore, Orissa
Gujarat Flying Club, Baroda
West Bengal Flying Training Institute, Kolkata
Academy of Career Aviation, Belgaum
Orient Flight School, Pondicherry
Sahara India Aviation Academy, New Delhi
Flytech Aviation Academy, Secunderabad
Andhra Pradesh Aviation Academy, Hyderabad
Amritsar Aviation Club, Punjab
Aviation Training Academy, Coimbatore
Bombay Flying Club, Mumbai
Chimes Aviation Academy, Madhya Pradesh
HAL Rotary Wing Academy, Bangalore
Amber Aviation, Uttarakhand
Rajiv Gandhi Aviation Academy, Secunderabad
Frank Airways, Madhya Pradesh

Currently, fresh CPL holders can expect to credit around Rs.150,000 per month to their bank accounts depending on type of planes they fly. With the requisite experience, a pilot can earn Rs.400,000 per month.

Capt. Krishnamoorthy Vaidyanathan has had the best of both the worlds: as an Indian Air Force (IAF) and as a commercial pilot. He joined the IAF in 1963 immediately after graduation and saw a lot of action in the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan during which he flew in hazardous missions in the eastern and western sectors providing air support to ground troops of the Indian Army. In 1983, when civil aviation was in dire need of experienced pilots, the IAF deputed a batch of senior pilots to Air India. One of them was Capt. Vaidyanathan. “It was a change for the better. As a commercial pilot, there’s much more money and glamour and it enables your family to settle down in the IAF one is repeatedly on the transfer list,” says Vaidyanathan.

Formerly Vaidyanathan used to fly the Boeing 747-400 on the European, London, US, and Gulf sectors and when not flying he doubled up as joint general manager (operations) for Air India. Vaidyanathan had also been approved by DGCA as an instructor and examiner for Airbus 310 pilots.

“A commercial pilot’s career is challenging, well-compensated and exciting. At the moment there’s a huge demand for pilots with many new private airlines crowding the skies. By one count, the airline industry will need around 8,000 pilots by 2010 and 15,000 pilots by 2020. To meet the requirements in the short term, airlines are hiring expatriate pilots who earn anywhere between $9,500 per month (Rs.3.8 lakh) to $11,000 (for new, wide bodied aircraft),” says Vaidyanathan.

A high-flying career option for those aiming for the sky!