The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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IAF pilots off poachers’ net

New Delhi, July 30: The government has rejected requests from over 20 air force pilots to resign after air headquarters expressed concern that a demand for aircrew from domestic private airlines could take a toll on the armed service.

Sources in the air force said that since the beginning of this year about 25 pilots had sought permission to resign, some of them on compassionate grounds.

A few were understood to be holding licences to fly civilian aircraft and were suspected by air headquarters of wanting to quit the air force for lucrative jobs with private airlines.

Most of the requests for resignation were from pilots of the IAF’s transport aircraft fleet. Fighter aircraft pilots have fewer openings in the private sector. The private domestic airline industry that is burgeoning this year has largely ignored fighter pilots but has tried to lure transport pilots to staff the aircraft being flown in increasing number on domestic routes.

Sources in the air force say there is also a demand for aircrew apart from pilots, namely navigators and ground staff. The rigorous training in the air force makes its aircrew an attractive human resource for private airlines who would otherwise have to train personnel from scratch.

But air headquarters insists quitting the air force should be made more difficult in this competitive scenario. The argument is that the air force is an armed force and a service essential to the security needs of the country.

“The requests for acceptance of premature retirement/resignation from the pilots are considered according to government instructions,” defence minister Pranab Mukherjee said in Parliament on Thursday in a written reply.

“Only those pilots who are superseded or are in low medical category or have extreme compassionate grounds are released from service. The majority of the pilots released from service have already completed their useful tenure as pilots. This release of pilots does not affect the operational status of the Indian Air Force.”

But last week, chief of air staff Air Chief Marshal Shashi Tyagi voiced his worries on the air force’s manpower requirements.

“My fighting force has to be in the cockpit. Our civil aviation (industry) has grown by 25 per cent. The price of aircrew is moving up rapidly. Our problem is how to retain our aircrews,” he said.

“Pilot poaching is a threat. But it is not easy to leave the service. Our personnel work on contract on the pleasure of the President of India and they have to serve till the President so desires.

“There have been proposals occasionally to allow IAF pilots to be put on deputation. Indeed, they are ' to the Border Security Force, for example ' but I do not think such other things are possible. I have my own cockpit vacancies to take care of.”

Private airlines pay aircrews more than the air force does its personnel but the service promises greater security of tenure and promises better livelihood conditions.

“I have to retain the personnel whom we train with great care and invest so much in. I have to man my force,” Tyagi said.

Like the two other armed forces, the air force, too, is understaffed. According to figures released this week in Parliament, there are 508 vacancies for officers (including flying crew) in the air force and 5081 vacancies for personnel below officer rank.

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