Indian Air Transport Growth Threatened by Pilot, Slot Shortages

 - February 19, 2019, 8:38 AM

Pilot shortages and decreasing slots at the congested metropolitan airports in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, and Hyderabad have led Indian air carriers to start to reduce capacity and increase fares. Forecasters project India’s domestic traffic to grow this year by 14 to 16 percent, to 165 million passengers, and international traffic to increase 10 to 12 percent, to around 77 million. However, present constraints threaten to stymie the expansion trends.

At a recent summit in Delhi, aviation consultancy CAPA-Centre for Aviation noted that India will need to add 17,000 pilots to its inventory of 7,963 in the next decade. “There is a 15 to 20 percent shortage of commanders,” said Kapil Kaul, CAPA CEO for India and the Middle East. “We [also] require 50 to 63 simulators in the country by 2028.” Further, he said, present flight training schools need to upgrade their old trainer aircraft. “You can get quality pilots only with good training,” he noted, adding that the country also lacks maintenance training schools; India has added just one school to its modest complement of 50 institutions since 2009.

Meanwhile, fleet additions show no sign of abating. Last year, budget carriers added 21.2 million seats, two-thirds of which IndiGo alone contributed. Budget carriers control a 70 percent share of India’s domestic market, according to CAPA Advisory and Research. The skills shortage will be become more acute by 2020, as Indian carriers add 90 aircraft, taking the fleet to 754. IndiGo plans to add at least 40 more aircraft in the year ending March 31, 2020, after inducting about 62 this year. The airline, which also operates ATR turboprops on regional routes, has placed orders for 530 Airbus A320-family narrowbodies.

While IndiGo has not officially acknowledged it faces a shortage of pilots, it confirmed it plans to cancel 30 flights per day until March 31, not including those involving Notams issued by various airports due to operational reasons.

“Pilots have been known to be an issue when synchronizing delivery of new aircraft deliveries,” said Vishok Mansingh, CEO of Mumbai-based aviation consultancy CAV Aero. “This is a temporary phase for IndiGo. With 1,300 flights a day, it is a reduction of only 1.3 percent. The schedules can easily be rationalized.” However, he added that shortages of captains stand to slow the growth of Indian aviation as a whole because “a gestation period of four years is required to produce captains.”