Give everyone the same chance to become an airline pilot

Indian civil aviation has witnessed the opening of eight new flight training schools in recent months, adding to the growing number of flight training organizations providing initial training. This will not only train aspiring pilots in the Indian cultural background, but also save a huge drain of foreign currency. While the outflow of currencies is blocked, there seems to be a growing concern about unfair trading practices when the cost of training is compared. There is an immediate need to rationalize the cost of training in the monopoly segment of student airline pilot training. The benefit of lower training costs should be passed on to consumers instead of charging the same cost to internationally trained pilots.

Equal opportunities

Aviation is an attractive profession and young people aspire to become airline pilots. However, the high cost of training to the tune of INR 85 lac to INR 1.2 crore is a deterrent for most people. The question arises, why should becoming an airline pilot be the privilege of those who can afford the exorbitant/prohibitive cost of training? It also prevents young people from Tier II/III cities from entering the profession and limits the quality of the talent pool. These young people have aspirations, are highly motivated and would be more loyal to the organization compared to the eligible class. It is therefore necessary to ensure equal opportunities by rationalizing the cost of training.

Although airlines are not regulated/required to limit the cost of training or course fees in a free market, this matter falls under the jurisdiction of the Competition Commission of India (CCI), Business Practices unfair.
Airlines sometimes prefer to recruit pilots who have a type rating. It also causes disproportionate demand since only the privileged few who can afford the cost of type rating (aircraft specific, e.g. A320/B737) are eligible and merit plays no role in selection.

I would like to elaborate by giving you an example. Airline A recently announced a cadet pilot program with aviation training school X which will train cadets in India. Airline A previously announced a tie-up with aviation training school Y which will train cadets outside India. Amazingly, both programs in India and outside India are advertised at the same flight training cost of INR 85 lac.

Prior to the training tie-up with Airline A, X Aviation had announced that the advantage of training in India over outside was mainly the considerably lower cost. An advertised CPL cost in India of 30 INR lac versus 60 INR lac to fly to the US (current exchange rates): The benefit of half the cost of training when training is conducted in India. However, after the merger with the airline, the cost of training increased significantly. There have been no significant changes to the trainers or the training aircraft or other course materials.

Unfair commercial practice

If Airline A cadet pilot training cost advertised by Y Aviation for training outside India (New Zealand and UAE) is INR 85 lac (CPL 60 lac + license conversion 4 lac + 25 lac type rating), then training in India with X aviation partnership should be around INR 55 lac (CPL 30 lac + 25 lac type rating). A difference of around INR 30 lac per caddy. If 400 pilots are trained over a period of time, this cost difference would be around INR 120 crore. It can be assumed that airline A keeps the price of training at the same level as all training providers, regardless of training location and currency.

There are other airlines that provide cadet pilot training at such exorbitant costs dangling the carrot of a letter of intent to future cadets in a monopolistic market.

There is an urgent need to shift the cost advantage to cadets to make aviation and pilot careers more affordable and to get better talent rather than limiting it to those with the money to pay the big payouts.

The solution

The solution to this problem which affects society and quality in terms of talent is to monitor and control training prices as is done by UGC and AICTE to prevent unfair practices and prices.

Another approach would be to establish a common entrance test by the regulator so that only deserving applicants are selected, thereby ensuring security through selection. There must be two training streams for the Commercial Pilot License (CPL).

1. CPL Airline
2. Amateur PLC

If a person wishes to take an airline CPL, the course and concepts must be synchronized, developed and controlled by a committee with the participation of the airlines. Similarly, the committee shall categorize the flight schools according to the quality of the trainers, the training provided in Cat 1 or 2. The airline’s CPL must be carried out only in the flight schools of Cat 1. The trainees selected by the airlines must be trained by the airlines and the additional costs must be borne by the airlines.

Whichever approach is chosen, the cost of training should be rationalized immediately so that trainees are not burdened with exorbitant courses and others who cannot afford the course due to their economic circumstances and their limitations have the same chances.

The end result will be that airlines will have a talent pool of highly motivated and well trained professionals.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


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