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Aparna Krishnakumar in Mumbai | May 24, 2005

Shyam Arora, all of 26 years, earns Rs 280,000 per month, visits at least five countries a month and has a glamorous lifestyle. If you thought he is an IIM graduate working with a multinational corporation, you are wrong. He works as a commercial pilot with Air-India.

Fantastic pay and perks mean flying could be a great option for teenagers and the not-so-old, for there's going to be huge demand for commercial pilots.

With private players such as Air Deccan, Kingfisher Airline, SpiceJet entering the domestic circuit -- and Go, the airline promoted by Jeh Wadia, younger son of Bombay Dyeing's Nusli Wadia, set for take off -- opportunities are only growing. Also, existing players such as Jet and Sahara have gone international too.

Says Sonal Agarwal, senior director with Accord Group, an executive search firm: "Despite no official estimates, we guess that the airline industry in India is currently facing a shortage of at least 2000-3000 commercial pilots."

The company was instrumental in finalising some key appointments for the first low cost carrier -- Air Deccan.

Even Lubna Kadri, founder of Indian Aviation Academy in Mumbai which gives ground training to students aspiring to be pilots sees this as a boom time for pilots considering that airline companies are also buying and leasing new aircraft.

Only people with commercial pilot licences are allowed to work with domestic and international airlines.

So, how does one go about acquiring this licence?

Kadri states that the basic pre requisites are completion of Class XII with subjects like physics, maths and chemistry. One must have completed 16 years of age for private pilot license and 17 years of age for commercial pilot license.

The age bracket for getting a CPL is between 18 years and 30 years. There is six months ground training involved after which you appear exams set by Director General of Civil Aviation; these are conducted in four times in a year.

A CPL aspirant also has to undergo two levels of medical tests. Level one is a medical certificate from doctors designated by the DGCA and the second level is conducted only in two cities -- Delhi and Bangalore by Air Force Central Medical Establishment and the Institute of Aviation Medicine, respectively. You have to also provide for a bank guarantee of Rs 10,000.

To get a CPL, one needs a minimum of 250 flying hours. Of this, 150 hours have to be solo, 25 hours of cross-country flying, 10 hours of instrument flying (where you rely on the plane's instruments alone and no external assistance) and 5 hours of flying in the night.

In India, there are several flying clubs that offer courses to obtain the CPL from the state owned Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udan Akademi, Rae Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh to Orient Flight School, Pondicherry and Flight clubs in cities of Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi.

According to Kadri, it takes anywhere between 2 and 3 years to obtain a CPL and costs Rs 900,000 to Rs 13 lakh (Rs 1.3 million).

Kadri points out that the variation in fees occurs on account of training and provision of equipment. For those who feel that this period of training is too long, there are foreign options as well.

One can obtain a CPL license from countries like US, Australia and Europe. In US for example, there are several flight schools that offer a CPL to international students as well.

Students wishing to apply to flight schools in the US need to have an I-20 visa.

The schools have to be accredited by the Federal Aviation Authority and one can complete the requirements for a CPL anywhere between 9-11 months.

The fees range from $28,000-$30,000 excluding your living expenses. Similarly in Australia, a 45 week course for CPL is available to international students having the appropriate visa at a cost of Australian $40,000-$45,000. These courses also include sessions on private pilot license as well.

However, one thing that one needs to be aware that even if one is accredited from flight schools of countries other than India, they have to appear for four exams (instead of the normal six) conducted by the DGCA to be eligible for employment in the domestic airline companies.

The fees for such courses may seem exorbitant for a majority of people but the recovery period is extremely quick as pilots are paid handsomely. A trainee pilot begins at Rs 15,000 per month on an average and can go as high as Rs 150,000 per month.

Agarwal of Accord points out that in the current scenario, pilots are being paid twice or more.

Added to these perks are the flying allowances, visit to different countries and sometime recognition as well (our ex prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was a pilot with Air-India).

While selecting a flying club in India, do examine whether the club has the required number of aircraft to train students and whether it is credible and while doing your course abroad, make sure to check whether the institute is accredited by both DGCA and FAA. So, fasten your thinking cap and get ready to soar to heights of glory.

Some government-owned flight schools

  • Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udan Akademi, Uttar Pradesh
  • Delhi Flying Club, Delhi
  • Bombay Flying Club, Mumbai, Maharashtra
  • Madras Flying Club, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
  • Assam Flying Club, Guwahati, Assam
  • Kerala Aviation Training Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

And some private* ones:

  • HAL Rotary Wing Academy, Bangalore
  • Garg Aviation, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh
  • Rajputana Aviation Academy, Kota Rajasthan
  • Orient Flight School, Pondicherry
  • Frank Airways, Indore, Madhya Pradesh

*Check for accredition of private institutes with the DGCA

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