Gautam Nair (name changed), a doctor, quit his profession and got a commercial pilot's licence in February last year. He was absorbed by a Delhi-based low-cost carrier within two months.
His brother Siddharth, however, was caught on the wrong side of the aviation business cycle. He completed his training in January this year and is still looking for a job.
The downturn in the aviation sector has led to significantly lower demand for pilots. This has adversely affected the businesses of more than 50 flying training schools, which had come up during the last two years on the back of an unprecedented growth story. Admissions to these institutes have now hit an all-time low.
Mamta Kota, director, Flytech Aviation Academy, Hyderabad, says, "It is a cyclical trend. There was a similar trend after 1998 which lasted up to 2000, when aviation was on a downturn."
Flytech imparts an 18-month course in flying training and conducts admissions twice a year. Kota said that admissions this July have been at least 50 per cent lower than in July 2007. Flying school agents who have tie-ups with foreign schools also have similar numbers to narrate.
Anand Mishra, chairman, Griffin Aviation India, says, "Last year, we sent 20-25 students every month. Now we are happy to get even one." The institute has a tie-up with the Griffin Flying School in the Philippines.
Mishra adds that though the course fee will not be slashed, it will have to compromise on the commissions from the foreign institutes.
"We used to charge around Rs 14.5 lakh for a full course. Of this, our commission was around Rs 50,000. We have had to slash this to around Rs 20,000 now," says Mishra.
Airlines maintain that pilot recruitment is low as capacity deployment is low. Sandeep Chalke, human resources head, Jet Airways, says, "We recruited our last batch of 40 officers in May. Last year, we recruited around 20 pilots per month. Now, we recruit every three or four months."
The supply of pilots exceeds supply. Jet Airways received 600 applications this May for 40 vacancies. In 2006, the airline had received 30 applications in all.
Jobless pilots are keeping their fingers crossed. They are taking up jobs as flying instructors. They want to gain experience by teaching in a flying school before there is an upswing and they can apply for jobs again.
Flytech now gets one application everyday from commercial pilot licence holders wanting to become assistant instructors. Indore-based Yash Air has received around 60 such applications in six months. The instructors have begun to offer their services relatively cheaply, a major change from last year, when salaries were almost on a par with airline pilots."A year back, instructors demanded close to Rs 3 lakh (Rs 300,000) per month, level with an airline pilot. Inability to pay would make us lose them to airlines which were recruiting pilots in huge chunks then," says Kota.