May 24, 2022

Can south India be launchpad for country’s aviation growth?

Date : 

Sep 11, 2018, 08:33 IST 

Sources :

CHENNAI: The launch of the regional connectivity scheme that aims to link smaller cities by air a few years ago has sparked a plethora of activities in the aviation sector. Indian carriers will require a large number of pilots in the next few years to meet the growth. But despite the surge in demand, there seems to be inadequate infrastructure to train young aspirants. Acute shortage of manpower is coming in the way of expanding fleet.

At present, airlines manage the gap in crew by hiring foreign pilots at great cost. But aviation can develop only with a strong foundation. And the many unused and lesser-used airfields of south India can play a key role in training pilots. There are several abandoned airfields in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra that were setup by the British. The better ones among them can be identified and made into training fields.

For instance, the Ulundurpet airfield near Trichy which belongs to the Tamil Nadu government is an ideal site. Being free of other air traffic, these airfields can offer uninterrupted training.

A good idea would be to start one or two national institutes in the southern part of the country where the weather is conducive to training, a major reason why the Indian Air Force has established most of their training establishments here. At present, students have very few good options. While the Madras Flying Club and Trivandrum Flying Club are closed, the Government Flying School in Jakkur hardly turns out students.

The three flying clubs in Hyderabad together have 30 pilots graduating every year. The inadequate training infrastructure forces aspirants to go abroad. This is a drastic decline from the time when India had laid a foundation for flying and was a pioneer in the field in the sub-continent. In the 1920s the government had encouraged the setting up of flying and gliding clubs across the country and provided financial assistance to provide training at subsidized rates. Jawaharlal Nehru had invited the famed German glider pilot Hannah Reitsch to India to help set up the Delhi Gliding Club. These clubs turned out a good number of pilots and maintenance engineers who contributed immensely to the growth of both civil and military aviation in the sub-continent. And Indian pilots and engineers went on to join airlines in countries like Singapore, Malaysia and the Middle East.

Recommended By Colombia Somewhere along the way, India lost the plot and we have reached a stage where Sri Lanka has become the destination for Indian pilot aspirants to enroll into flying schools. It is shocking that of the total number of commercial pilot’s licences issued in the past 10 years, only about 30% had undertaken training in the country. The rest had undergone training in the US, Canada, the UK, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Recently two leading Indian carriers had launched their own cadet training programme to meet their requirements. And it is not surprising that they have tied up with flying schools in other countries to train these cadet pilots. If India wants to have a decent share of the aviation training market it has to make revolutionary changes. Steps should be taken on a war footing to set up world-class flying and maintenance training institutes. While doing so, great care has to be taken while choosing the location. It is well known that the success or failure of a flying training organization depends on its location.

The Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (IGRUA) at Rae Barelli and the National Flying Training Institute at Gondia stand as lessons for what should not be done. Both these institutes are located in places which have fog throughout winter that makes training impossible. In summer too, the place is not suitable for ab-initio training due to the prevalence of strong winds, thermals and the associated thunderstorms that pose a hazard to training. Apart from setting up schools in the right location, the government should also be careful about the person appointed to head these organizations.

Often the ministry chooses a retired Air Force officer to head these institutes, while one cannot question their professionalism, it should be realized that military and civil flying training are poles apart as the mission requirements and sortie profiles are entirely different. Majority of the military pilots are accustomed to single pilot aircraft whereas airline flying involves multi-crew operation. It is crucial to have competent chief flying instructors, another area in which the country is facing a severe shortage. At present, a flying instructor’s job is hardly soug

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