Shortage of commanders may be forcing Kingfisher Airlines asking its pilots to fly more but the airline says despite some cockpit crew leaving the organisation, it still has the "adequate number".
In the last 18 months, about 168 pilots including 72 commanders have quit and left for greener pastures, sources said, adding "going by the industry standard, there is a shortage of around 47 commanders".
Without giving out the number of pilots who have left, Kingfisher Airlines maintained it had "rationalised its capacity in 2008-09 due to the economic downturn, resulting drop in passenger traffic. This resulted in a few surplus pilots who left voluntarily to pursue other opportunities".
According to the sources, the airline's present pilot strength was 684, comprising 341 commanders and 351 first officers (co-pilots) to operate a fleet of 53 aircraft, as many as 74 of the co-pilots are currently undergoing training.
They claimed that this shortage was being filled by the airline deploying commanders and co-pilots for more flying time, with the result that about 14 of them have already completed their 1,000 flying hours which they have to carry out in one whole year.
Therefore, these pilots cannot be used for the rest of the period. "Besides, around 34 pilots have completed around 990 hours and on the verge of being grounded as they have completed the maximum flying time," they said.
The DGCA's Flight Duty Time Limitation (FDTL) rules stipulate a maximum of 1,000 hours of flying in 12 months and if a pilot completes these hours before 12 months, he cannot fly for the rest of the period.
The sources claimed that the problem of pilot shortage may aggravate further when the additional aircraft, including those grounded due to various reasons, join the fleet in the coming days.
A Kingfisher spokesperson, while maintaining that there was no shortage of commanders, said the Vijay Mallya-owned carrier has adequate number of captains to operate its current fleet.
"We ensure that while we maintain highest levels of safety, we utilise our pilots optimally".
"The airline targets a 50-50 mix of commanders and first officers. However, at any given point of time, there will always be more first officers due to the ones that are either going through their initial training after joining Kingfisher or in the upgrade training to convert to a commander," the spokesperson said.
Asked when the grounded planes - eight Airbus A-320s and five ATR turboprops - would re-join the active fleet, the spokesperson said, "The first few of these aircraft will start flying in early January. The rest will be operational in the next few months".
He refuted charges about "poor" service conditions in the airline, saying delivering "high standards of five-star service wouldn't be possible if the work environment was not conducive".