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Airline pilots make a beeline for Akasa, Jet Airways 2.0

India has about 17,000 pilots. It’s the first time in one-and-a-half decades, when aviation was in a boom phase, that pilots are expected to be in such high demand.

December 24, 2021 / 04:29 PM IST

As Akasa, the ultra-low cost airline backed by investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, prepares to take to the skies and Jet Airways attempts a comeback, they are seeking to hire pilots and other staff. Established rivals IndiGo and SpiceJet are the likely hunting grounds, industry executives and observers said.

Both IndiGo and SpiceJet denied any departures of their employees. Akasa said it was premature to comment and Jet Airways did not respond to queries from Moneycontrol.

Akasa should start operations in financial year 2022-23 and Jet Airways 2.0 is likely to start in the second quarter of the year (July-Semptember), reckons Kapil Kaul, chief executive, India subcontinent, Center for Asia Pacific Aviation .

In a year that will elevate competition in the industry, Tata Sons Ltd, meanwhile, is readying to take the helm of Air India.

India has about 17,000 pilots.  It’s the first time in one-and-a-half decades, when aviation was in a boom phase, that pilots are expected to be in such high demand.

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If Kaul is right about the timelines for the launch of Akasa and Jet 2.0, the two airlines will need to get their personnel, primarily pilots and cabin crew, in place.

The sheer numbers can be daunting. For instance, industry standards stipulate that there should be one cabin crew for every door in an aircraft. So a Boeing 737 MAX  requires at least four cabin crew because it has four doors.

Akasa, which has ordered 72 MAX aircraft, will require at least 288 cabin crew members although the number is likely to be more because the airline will also need to provide for back-up in case one crew member is indisposed. To be sure, the airline will not require so many at one go because the aircraft will be delivered in phases; Akasa is yet to announce how many aircraft it plans to start operations with and how many it plans to induct annually.

Favourite hunting grounds? 

Hiring fresh people is one option for the two airlines while getting those working with rivals to switch is another and, according to industry watchers,  IndiGo and SpiceJet are emerging as the favourite poaching grounds for recruiting pilots and other crew members.

Understandably, the two airlines do not want to admit this on record, but those from the industry say the movement of pilots and crew has already started from both IndiGo and SpiceJet.

While many employees of the existing airlines have been contacted by Akasa and Jet Airways, offer letters have only been made to a handful so far, people with knowledge of the development said.

Akasa is said to be offering what will eventually work out to be a compensation of about Rs 1 crore for pilots who are so-called Designated Examiners (DEs) or examiners. A DE is a senior pilot capable of carrying out various checks on other pilots to keep their flying licenses valid.

On average, the joining salary for a pilot ranges from ₹80,000 to ₹1.2 lakh a month and can go up to ₹6 lakh. Every additional qualification that a pilot gets while flying adds to his or her earnings.

Industry executives aware of the development say that a headhunter is in touch with senior employees of existing airlines, making them job offers. A pilot said several SpiceJet pilots had left while some were serving out their notice period before joining the start-up airline.

“It is not surprising if pilots leave SpiceJet to join Akasa especially those who have not been paid their full dues. After all both airlines have the Boeing 737 MAX,” said a senior executive at an airline on condition of anonymity.

Akasa will start taking delivery of the 72 MAX aircraft it has ordered from Boeing in mid-2022.

To be sure, it is difficult to put an exact figure on the number of pilots and crew who are leaving their current employers to join Akasa and Jet 2.0.

The number of pilots leaving the two airlines to join Akasa and Jet 2.0 will become clearer once the new Operator’s Operation Manual is approved; these pilots will have to undergo an operator’s conversion course and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation will need to be informed.   

Denials 

Both IndiGo and SpiceJet denied their staff were leaving. In response to a question on how many cabin crew members had left SpiceJet, a spokesman said:  “There has been no significant attrition among the flying crew. Around 25 cabin crew have quit in the last six months and to the best of our knowledge, no SpiceJet cabin crew has joined Akasa or Jet Airways.”

“No senior management member has resigned and is serving notice period at present.”

SpiceJet also denied that any commanders and first officers had left the airline. “The information (of commanders and first officers leaving) is absolutely wrong and denied,” the spokesman said.

An IndiGo spokesperson said: “During the last two years, we have had very little to negligible attrition among our pilots, both Commanders as well as First Officers. Similar is the case with our Engineers, Ground Staff as well as Cabin crew.

The spokesperson added: “We are aware that there will always be opportunities for talent given the way this industry is evolving.”

As of March 31, 2021, IndiGo had 23,711 employees on its rolls including 3,734 pilots and 5,278 cabin crew, according to its annual report for 2020-21.

Demand-supply mismatch 

A spokesperson for Akasa said it was “a bit early for us to comment.” A questionnaire sent to Jet Airways remained unanswered.

Industry watchers maintain that the time is ripe for pilots to leave their employers and join the new airlines to take advantage of a demand- supply mismatch.

Pilots also say it would make sense for those looking for new opportunities to join a new airline as their career progression will be faster.

“Former pilots of Jet Airways who have served out their (financial) bonds may also be looking to leave,” said a pilot, adding that an Airbus A-330 pilot has to serve for two years while a Boeing pilot has to serve for three years failing which they would forfeit the financial bonds which they had signed with the airline. The bond entails a pilot to provide upwards of Rs 30 lakh, pilots indicated.
Ashwini Phadnis is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
first published: Dec 24, 2021 03:46 pm
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