How airlines are cheating in the name of pilot training
If exorbitant flying training cost becomes a deterrent to talent, then it becomes a safety issue
Becoming a pilot is an expensive proposition due to the high training costs without an assurance of a job. On the other hand, it can be a lucrative business for some. Every year hundreds of youths train to become pilots at flying schools in India and abroad having borrowed huge sums in loans or mortgage. A pilot's profession not only pays well but increases the social standing of an individual. Youths are desperate for jobs, and airlines need pilots, but do airlines have a moral and social responsibility of not making pilot training into a business that works towards maximising profits and at some stage even insensitivity?
A pilot's profession is an aspirational career for most young adults and more so after the aviation boom with the arrival of airlines like IndiGo and SpiceJet. IndiGo leads the pack in terms of market share and number of aircraft. The growth of airlines has been phenomenal and expansion is a never-ending process. This requires the recruitment of hundreds of pilots to fly the aircraft.
We have heard stories of how young girls and boys from not so affluent backgrounds and domiciled in smaller towns and villages have become pilots in these leading airlines. They narrate stories that inspire other youths in the country and abroad. India is the leading country in terms of the number of women pilots.
IndiGo recently announced a cadet pilot programme with a flying school that will train cadets in India and had previously announced a training tie-up with another flying school that will train cadets outside India. Surprisingly, both the programmes -- in India and outside India -- are being advertised at the same training cost of Rs 85 lakh.
Breakup of costs:
Pre-departure ground school (480 hours) Rs 4,50,000
CPL Multi-engine IR Rs 61,44,000 (Total Rs 65,94,000)
A320-type rating Rs 19,95,000
Total cost Rs 85,89,000
Cost of licence conversion to Indian licence -- Rs 4,00,000
Advertised cost by the Indian flying school -- Rs 85,00,000
The same Indian flying school, prior to the partnership with IndiGo, had advertised the difference in the costs of training in India and abroad highlighting the cost advantage of training in India.
Ground school (500 hours) Rs 1,00,000
CPL Multi-engine IR Rs 26,10,000 (Total 27,10,000)
A320-type rating (assuming same) Rs 19,95,000
Total cost Rs 47,05,000
These were the advertised costs in 2015. Assuming a liberal 20% inflation, the cost of training would jump to approximately Rs 55,00,000.
In essence, the Indian flying school which was advertising a pilot's course hiked the course fee by 200% after IndiGo announced a partnership with it.
Unfair trade practice
The advantage of training in India as compared to abroad was primarily the considerably lower cost. For each candidate that is trained in India under the IndiGo cadet pilot training programme, the airline will earn Rs 30 lakh per candidate as profits over and above reasonable profits. If the flying school trains 200 pilots for IndiGo in a year, this would relate to a Rs 60 crore windfall.
There are other airlines running cadet pilot training at such exorbitant costs by dangling the carrot of a letter of intent (LOI) to the prospective cadets in a monopolistic market.
There is an urgent need to pass the cost advantage to the cadets in order to make aviation and the career of pilots more affordable and attract better talent rather than restrict it to those who have the money to afford the hefty payouts. In the name of Atma Nirbhar Bharat and Train in India, airlines must not be allowed to fleece their own citizens and not passing on the cost-saving by training in India.
The solution to this problem which affects the society and quality in terms of talent is to monitor and control the price of training like it is being done by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to prevent unfair practices and pricing. If the exorbitant flying training cost becomes a deterrent to talent and meritorious candidates, then it becomes a safety issue.
Another approach would be to establish a common entrance test by the regulator so that only deserving candidates are selected thereby assuring safety through selection.
(This article first appeared in avobanter.com)