The civil aviation ministry plans to extend its December 2013 deadline for phasing out foreign pilots, with airlines unable to train a sufficient number of local pilots for the commander’s post.
The move will benefit Jet Airways (India) Ltd, which plans to hire about 70 foreign pilots for its Boeing 777s.
According to civil aviation ministry records, there were 340 foreign pilots employed by airlines and charter companies in India as of December 2012. It said the number of foreign pilots in India had reduced from 526 in 2011 to 340.
Among the airlines, Jet has the highest number of expat pilots (93), followed by SpiceJet (63) and IndiGo (56).
Non-scheduled operators, or charter companies, have hired 90 expat pilots.
Foreign pilots are issued a foreign air crew temporary authorisation to work in India.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation had set a December-end deadline for the issue of temporary authorisation permits to foreign pilots.
The government has been under pressure on the issue as about 4,000 pilots do not have jobs in India.
Civil aviation secretary K N Srivastava said the airlines were striving to train Indian co-pilots for the commander’s post, but the process could not be expedited beyond a point.
He indicated the government would extend the deadline beyond December, but did not share details.
Jet plans to recruit about 70 foreign pilots for its three Boeing 777-300ERs.
The airline plans to wet-lease them to Turkish Airlines for a year and does not have enough commanders on its rolls to operate these.
The aircraft are currently on lease to Thai Airways and will return this year.
The airline had reduced the number of foreign pilots on rolls and terminated their contracts before the end of term to save costs. Five Boeing 777s were leased out, reducing the requirement of pilots.
Jet's vice-president (investor relations) K G Vishwanath told analysts recently: "By March 2013, we will reduce (the number of expat pilots) to 59. As of March-end 2012, we had 207 expat pilots.''
"The principle behind hiring of foreign pilots was there is a shortage of trained commanders in India.
"There are so many Kingfisher pilots without work. Why do you need to hire more foreign pilots,'' asked captain Mohan Ranganathan.
He said Singapore Airlines had served notice to its foreign pilots to leave by June.
"In India, there is no clear cut policy on the issue.
"There are hundreds of Indian pilots who are unemployed and their interests must be protected.'' This is not the first time the government is extending its deadline.
It had set July 2010 as a deadline to phase out expat pilots, but then revised it to July 2011 and then to 2013, giving a reprieve to domestic airlines.