Foreign Pilots Out, Domestic Pilots In: Air India Express


The Air India Express, AIE, the low-cost arm of Air India, after phasing out the entire foreign crew, will operate with 100% domestic pilots on board in a few months time. This has become possible because AIE has developed an in-house mechanism to upgrade the Indian pilots to pilots-in-command. Its need has long been felt because recruiting and managing foreign crew is a cumbersome process. Moreover, Indian crew are more economical and reliable in terms of emoluments.

The phasing out of the foreign crew has been an ongoing process for the past few years.

According to the data available with the Union Civil Aviation Ministry, the AIE has a strength of 334 Indian pilots till 2018. However, around 16 Indian pilots were upgraded as pilots-in-command from January to September 2018. The same period saw 11 foreign pilots being phased out.

The national carrier Air India has not hired any expats/foreign pilots during the past three years. However, AIE has hired 63 foreign captains/pilots during the past three years:
– 29 in 2016,
– 23 in 2017 and
– 11 in 2018.

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At present, AIE has less than 10 foreign pilots who will eventually be phased out this year itself. AIE has been recruiting foreign pilots mainly from the East European countries on a two-year contract basis.

The rich pool of talent in the foreign crew will always scout for big brand companies and relatively low-profile foreign crew opt for low-cost airlines in the third-world countries like India. While India has enough talent and CPL holders produced by many flying schools, there is, as such, no need to rely on foreign crew.

Further, all the scheduled and non-scheduled airlines are keen to develop their own in-house training facilities to eliminate the need for foreign pilots.

The government has recently extended the use of foreign pilots by Indian carriers up to December 31, 2020, because the shortage of the type rated pilot-in-command/instructor/examiner persisted in India. However, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has requested all airlines to submit their phase out plan of foreign pilots periodically.