New Delhi, July 18: Pilot poachers are threatening the Indian Air Force, pitting the armed service in competition with domestic private airlines to recruit and retain skilled aviation personnel.
Domestic private airlines that have spurted and are adding more to their number are seeking to lure aircrew from the IAF.
Air headquarters in New Delhi is worried by the number of requests from pilots and aircrew to resign or take premature retirement from the service.
The high command has told all ranks that it will frown on requests to leave the service because the air force is already coping with a significant number of cockpit vacancies.
“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 aircrew,” Air Chief Marshal Shashi Tyagi said here today.
Tyagi refused to give an indication of the number of requests to leave the service but made it clear that he was deeply concerned.
The air chief said many of the requests to leave the service had come from officers ostensibly for personal reasons. But air headquarters was aware that some of the officers had obtained civil flying licences.
“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,” the air chief marshal said.
Over the past year some five private airlines have started operations in India and at least three more ' Indigo, Magic Air and Paramount ' are expected to begin doing business by the end of the year.
The proliferation of cheap airlines like Air Deccan, Spicejet and Kingfisher has meant that there is more demand for air travel and consequently an increasing demand for aircrew.
At the Paris air show in early June ' where the IAF was a major buyer itself ' Indian private airlines surprised global aviation majors by placing huge orders. But there is a shortage of skilled technical staff.
Private airlines pay air-crew more than the IAF does but the service gives more security of tenure and promises better livelihood conditions.
In an unstated and unpublicised move, air headquarters is also making it possible for aircrew to gain international experience by deploying IAF aircraft overseas for joint exercises.
Earlier, speaking at a function to mark the second anniversary of Force magazine, a journal specialising on security issues, the air chief outlined his compulsions to retain staff.
The air force has an authorised strength of 45 squadrons but is below its sanctioned strength of 39.5 squadrons.
To be able to extend its reach, the IAF has to retain existing staff, recruit more, and is now trying to expand the fleet. It currently has a staff strength of about 1,15,000. The IAF’s fleet has 750-plus combat aircraft and the rest is made up of trainers, helicopters and transporters.
“I have to retain the personnel whom we train with great care and invest so much upon. I have to man my force,” the air chief marshal said.
Tyagi said air headquarters had made a presentation to the government on the necessity to create an “Aerospace Command”. The command would fuse the country’s space technology capability with the IAF’s strategic reach.
He said a briefing had been given to a team of officials from the services and the bureaucracy and was being followed up.