Why DGCA is wrong in fiddling with employment contract of pilots

 Manu Kaushik   New Delhi     Last Updated: August 24, 2017  | 15:31 IST
Why DGCA is wrong in fiddling with employment contract of pilots

The aviation regulator DGCA (Director General of Civil Aviation) has recently increased the notice period for senior pilots from six months to one year in case they want to quit job. In addition, co-pilots have to give six months prior to leaving an airline. The DGCA says that "pilots are resigning without providing any notice to the airlines... even groups of pilots resign together without notice and as a result airlines are forced to cancel their flights at the last minute. Such resignation by the pilots and the resultant cancellation of flights causes inconvenience and harassment to the passengers."

Such interference from the government in the private job contracts is one of its kind, and shows that authorities are more concerned about airlines than pilots. In an open economy, employment contracts, especially in private sector, and their terms should not come under the purview of the government. The airline and pilots have to mutually decide on notice period requirements based on the other terms of the contract.

The DGCA says that "it takes about eight to nine months to train a pilot to operate an aircraft... as he has to pass technical and performance examinations, undergo simulator and flying training and has to undertake 'skill test' to satisfy license requirements before he is released to fly." But how's that different from other skilled jobs in other sectors? Every organization in the formal sector spends time and resources to hone professionals to perform tasks as per its needs.

More than the diktat itself, the timing of this change as raises questions. In the past, there have been instances of pilots leaving in hordes to join start-up airlines leading to shortage of pilots with incumbent airlines. It happened once in 2005 when three airlines were launched - IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir - around the same time. A similar situation was faced by airlines when Vistara and AirAsia India started operations in 2013.

The increase in notice period can be a short-term solution for airlines but each airline has to look beyond. Not just India, there's a huge shortage of pilots in the whole Asia Pacific region. According to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the region will need 230,000 pilots by 2030, while the current training capacity is just about 5,000 a year.

Currently, airlines hire pilots through three channels - lateral hiring from other airlines (which is mostly for senior pilots), hiring from open market, and tying up with flying schools to keep a steady flow of pilots every year.

Airlines like IndiGo have taken a lead by through its cadet programme with UK-based CTC Aviation and CAE. The airline picks up candidates at young age and trains them. IndiGo is inducting close to 300 cadets every year which is close to its current pilot requirement. That way it's not as much dependent on lateral hiring as other carriers. Other airlines, although they have been in existence for a long time, are still toying with this idea.

The DGCA's decision is also regressive in the sense that it restricts the career growth of pilots who want to work for international airlines or want to fly wide-body aircraft. In India, a large chunk of the current fleet with domestic carriers is narrow-body like A320s and Boeing 737s. Typically, the notice period of pilots across the world varies from one to three months, and nowhere in the world regulator interferes with the employment contracts of pilots. For DGCA to decide on the employment contracts may not be a step in the right direction.


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