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Pilots Resentment: Flight Cancellations Call For Policy Reforms For any reason, a cancelled flight leads an airline to lose upto INR 12 lakh per flight approximately

By Shrabona Ghosh

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The pilots in the airline industry are miffed by a host of reasons such as rationalization of payment, merger, weak rostering system, unilateral decisions of management, flying hours, amongst others. This conundrum has led to cancellations of flights by airlines in the past few weeks. In 2018, Air India suffered a loss of around INR 600 crore due to the 58-day-long strike by its pilots, the then Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh had said. "Ideally the Indian operators should look at the various large airlines in other countries, mainly the US and try to work out a similar working policy framework, keeping in mind the Indian labour laws," said Arun Lohiya, chief operating officer - CAD Ventures Pvt. Ltd. - A Cadila group company.

For any reason, a cancelled flight leads an airline to lose upto INR 12 lakh per flight approximately.

This cost break up has been explained by Arun Lohiya, chief operating officer - CAD Ventures

Recently, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) , a statutory body of the government of India, has proposed new rules to provide enhanced weekly rest for pilots which has gone up from 36 hours to 48 hours. The rules have also reduced night-time flying, which is known to contribute to fatigue and impact alertness levels.

Commercial pilot salaries in India can vary depending on several factors, such as the type of airline, the type of aircraft flown and the pilot's level of experience. Commercial Pilot License (CPL) allows the candidate to fly the aircraft commercially. On average, the starting salary for a commercial pilot in India is around INR 10-12 lakhs per annum, while experienced pilots can earn upwards of INR 15-20 lakhs per annum. The salary of a CPL mainly depends upon the experience that counts into the skillset and the flying hours, states AME CET.

In recent days, Vistara has cut flights following cancellations and delays as pilots have been on a strike of sorts over salary revisions. According to various reports, pilots are protesting the terms of their new contract that will come into effect following the carrier's upcoming merger with Air India, causing the airline to cancel almost 150 flights.

"I don't believe there should be government regulation to fix pilots remunerations and the DGCA yoke of the 6 month/ 12 month mandatory notice period must be dropped. It is a restraint of trade. There are paradoxical scenarios going on, on one side, the DGCA and airlines say that pilots can't leave without serving a 12/6 months mandatory notice period, and on the other side, the airlines state that it doesn't have enough ability to guarantee the pilots the required 70 hours flying a month. The two are contradictory statements, especially when some west asian carriers are paying more than three times the current package. Let market forces determine both the notice period and also the remuneration," said Sanjay Lazar, an aviation expert and CEO Avialaz Consultants.

"It is important to note that the Indian market leader Indigo, who has almost 65 per cent of the market share, has already established a higher payment benchmark of 70 hours guaranteed flying hours. Expats coming into India under FATA, are paid at international benchmarks which is twice that of an Indian commander. The leave rules must be more logical, and in line with what the Industry leader has stipulated, or find some midway," he added.

Given India's double-digit growth in the aviation sector, it is crucial to review pilot policies. "The Boeing incident should also be considered when framing new policies. Moreover, DGCA's past actions, such as grounding half of SpiceJet's planes due to maintenance issues, indicate the need for stricter rules," said a source on condition of anonimity.

Airlines may have placed orders of 1,800 aircraft worth $2 billion, but the trouble will begin as delivery sets in. There could be a crisis in manpower planning and supply. Getting trained pilots, cabin crew and more so the AMEs would be a challenge, "Quality, safety and reliability should not be compromised, this situation will also be present in the regulatory bodies like AAI or DGCA because they have not planned for this sudden and meteoric rise in passengers, airports and aircraft. Even airport infrastructure is already bursting with more airports being opened or upgraded to international travellers (Ayodhya for example)," explained Lohiya.

There is a substantial demand in South Asia for 37,000 pilots and 38,000 maintenance technicians over the next two decades. "As per current order book, on the manpower front, airlines will need a minimum of 10,000 pilots (depending on the mix of wide-body and narrow body jets) the number could vary even as high as 12,000 pilots and a 40,000 cabin crew just to stay abreast of the regulators norms," Lazar explained.

Although the government has approved numerous training schools in the past two years, "We need to improve our Flying Training Organization (FTO) sector to meet future demand. Currently, FTOs are treated as airline operators by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS)," added the source.

Experts argue that if the ongoing resentment is not addressed at the earliest, then these would fuel lasting disaffection and grievance, leading to catastrophic consequences.

Shrabona Ghosh


A journalist with a cosmopolitan mindset. I lead a project called 'Corporate Innovations' wherein I cover corporates across verticals and try to tell stories on innovations. Apart from this, I write industry pieces on FMCGs, auto, aviation, 5G and defense. 
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