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World Pilot Day: Is India Taking Off? April 26th is celebrated as World Pilot's Day and the idea to turn it into an international celebration was established by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA)

By Shrabona Ghosh

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"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return," said Leonardo DaVinci, the Italian polymath. A pilot lives this dream.

April 26th is celebrated as World Pilot's Day and the idea to turn it into an international celebration was established by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA). In 2013, IFALPA initiated negotiations to establish a specific date to celebrate Pilots' Day.

Why is this celebrated?

This day recognizes the many contributions of pilots who safely connect millions of passengers around the world every year. On this very day in 1912, a young Turkish pilot took his first flight; his name was Fesa Evrensev (1878-1951).

According to Turkish sources, Fesa Evrensev was the first Turkish military pilot to take part in a number of military flight missions during the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913; in 1933, he became the first president of Turkish Airlines. Given the importance of Fesa Evrensev in the history of Turkish aviation, the Turkish Airlines Pilots' Association was the first to establish 26 April as Pilots Day.

In 2013, the IFALPA concluded it was high time they found a day to celebrate all these pilots. Therefore, they decided on 26 April, a day that saw a prominent figure in aviation history taking to the sky for the first time. The following year, on 26 April 2014, World Pilots Day was celebrated for the first time. IFALPA selected 26 April to highlight the inaugural flight of Mehmet Fesa Evrensev, who had played a significant role in the development of Turkish aviation since the early 1910s.

Indian pilots making waves

Commemorating the day, Jyotiraditya M. Scindia, Union minister for Civil Aviation, tweeted,
"Wishing a happy #WorldPilotsDay to all the pilots who continue to be the backbone of a safe & growing civil aviation sector. A special shout-out to India, which has the highest no. of women pilots at 15% - 3 times the global average! Here's to breaking barriers & soaring in the skies."

In March, India's airline regulatory body shared the latest statistics on the strength of pilots in India. As per the latest data, 15 per cent of the pilots in the country are women. According to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), this is three times the global average of 5 per cnet. A total of 244 pilots have been recruited in 2021 as per the data received from various Indian scheduled airlines. Estimates suggest that India may require 1,000 pilots per annum over the next five years.

In 2021, Zoya Agarwal, an Indian commercial pilot, for the first time led an all-women pilot team of Air India and covered the world's longest air route from San Francisco (SFO) in the United States of America to Bengaluru city in India, covering the North Pole. She became the youngest woman pilot in India to fly a Boeing-777 in 2013. Similarly, at Vistara Airlines, women employees form almost 42 per cent of its workforce and 13 per cent of the leadership team. As much as 13 per cent of its pilots are women.

"We are proud that almost 13 per cent of our pilots are women, which is more than double the global average and we are constantly working towards taking this number higher. Our every step is envisioned to ensure a balanced approach to gender diversity and inclusion by embedding a gender-neutral lens across the organization," said Deepa Chadha, senior vice president - HR and corporate affairs, Vistara.

Similarly, Indigo, India's largest airline, has 15 per cent women representation in its cockpit. "India has the world's highest percentage of female pilots, double the 6 per cent world-average," said Pieter Elbers, CEO, IndiGo in a LinkedIn post.

Another feather in India's cap was when Nivedita Bhasin of Indian Airlines became the youngest woman pilot in world civil aviation history to command a commercial jet aircraft on 1 January 1990 at the age of 26. Bhasin piloted IC-492 on the Bombay-Aurangabad-Udaipur sector

Not all is well

Though India has had a promising aviation history, the recent development from airlines paints a different story.

Air India, one of the oldest airlines in the country, is facing the ire of its pilots. On April 17, Air India rolled out a revamped compensation structure for its pilots and cabin crew, which has since been rejected by the two unions - Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) and Indian Pilots Guild (IPG).

The changes in compensation structure come at a time when Air India is implementing a massive fleet and network expansion plan and is looking to hire more pilots and cabin crew. As part of it, the guaranteed flying allowance for pilots has been doubled to 40 hours per month from 20 hours, although it will still be lower than the 70 hours per month that Air India pilots were entitled to prior to the Covid pandemic.

In a joint statement, Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) and Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), said, "These terms and conditions are not acceptable to us, and we will contest this travesty using any and all avenues available to us. Our member pilots will not sign these unilateral revised terms of employment and compensation. Any coercive steps or victimisation by the company against our member pilots to sign these draconian terms and compensation will lead to industrial unrest."

According to PTI, recently, Air India pilots have reached out to Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, seeking his help and intervention in addressing their grievances.

Over 1,500 pilots have written to the chairman, which owns Air India, alleging that they are not being treated with respect and dignity by the HR department.

"We take great pride in our work and the role that we play in representing the Tata group and our country on the global stage. However, we are currently facing a difficult situation with the current HR department." the pilots said. The petition follows repeated appeals by the pilots' unions urging Air India management to not coerce the pilots to accept its revised terms and conditions. The pilots have alleged that they feel that their voices are not being heard and requested Ratan Tata's help in finding a solution. "We understand that the challenges facing Air India are complex, and we are committed to working with the company to find solutions that will benefit all stakeholders. However, we feel that our concerns are not being heard or addressed by the current HR team," the pilots added, quoted the report.

Air India in a town hall meeting with employees on April 24 defended the new employee contract terming it as 'within the framework of law.'

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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