Do we “need” pilots at all?

“Expat pilots: Are they needed?”, an article in The Times of India asks. Some Indian pilots are pissed off that their foreign counterparts are earning more than they are; if they are kicked out, India will save precious foreign currency-

“These expats are a precious drain on our exchequer. With the dollar appreciating, they’re now getting 15-20% more salary,” says an Indian commander. Even in the present turbulent times, a foreign commander can expect to earn roughly Rs 10 lakh a month, compared to the Indian, who will get paid about Rs 6 lakh. Foreign pilots are given other perks too, pushing up their cost to the company. These include five star hotel accommodation and a generous travel allowance that could be as much as $12,000 or Rs 6 lakh a year.

Surely its for the airlines to decide which pilots they want to employ. If Indian pilots with experience similar to the foreign ones can be hired cheaply, I don’t think the airlines would hesitate for a single second; after all, private airlines have their profits to consider; unless its a prestige issue with the management – see, we hire more “phoren” pilots than you do – that kind of thing. The reason-

So why are airlines hiring expats? They were taken on when Indian commanders were in short supply. Explains Siddhanth Sharma, former CEO, Spicejet: “It would take a co-pilot at least three years to notch up the 2,500 hours needed for commandership. So, expats were the only option then.”

But that’s no longer the case.

The assumption here is that airlines should give preference to Indians over foreigners; protectionism is the argument here. If that’s the case, should Raj Thackeray demand that only Maharashtrian pilots be allowed to fly in and out of Mumbai? The principle is the same.

If the argument is cost, then the Indian government could cancel the licenses of all airlines – flying is expensive, most people in the country don’t fly. Retire the flying aluminum cans and hire more engine and bus drivers; we could save billions of dollars. After all, LS MP Abdul Wahab did say that a pilot is a nothing more than a “glorified driver”. No?

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