India's airline pilot shortage was exacerbated last week when low-cost start-up Kingfisher Airlines launched services relying partly on pilots poached from other carriers.
As Kingfisher began operating its first Airbus A320 between Mumbai and Bangalore, Air Sahara and Jet Airways had to cut back their schedules because they were short of pilots.
Air Sahara says it had to suspend some domestic services in early May and delay the launch of its new Chennai-Kuala Lumpur service from 15 May to 14 June because 10 of its pilots had left for Kingfisher and another low-fare start-up, SpiceJet.
Jet Airways chief executive Wolfgang Prock-Schauer says the carrier had to adjust its ATR schedule because of a pilot shortage, but it has retained all its Boeing 737 pilots. "We weren't too badly affected," says Prock-Schauer.
Kingfisher joins Air Deccan in the fast-growing Indian low-fare market, and Boeing 737-800 operator SpiceJet plans to launch later this month. All three carriers are rapidly expanding their fleets, planning to add a total of 21 aircraft by year-end while recruiting local and expatriate pilots.
Air Deccan head of training Capt P K Gupta acknowledges a pilot shortage forced the carrier to delay putting two additional A320s into service by a month.
Prock-Schauer says Jet Airways is relying on expatriates to introduce its fleet of three Airbus A340-300Es, with two-thirds of new recruits foreign-born. Jet's first 269-seat A340-300E arrived last week and will be used to launch a daily Mumbai-London Heathrow service on 23 May. The other two A340-300Es will be used to launch a six-times-weekly Mumbai-Brussels-Newark service on 23 June.
Air Sahara, which now employs only 10 or 12 foreign pilots, also plans to rely on expatriates to launch its new widebody fleet, says chief executive Rono Dutta.
India has raised pilots' retirement age from 60 to 61 to ease the shortage (Flight International, 29 March–4 April 2004).
BRENDAN SOBIE & LEITHEN FRANCIS/SINGAPORE
Source: Flight International