The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The sky is the Limit

There’s a lot happening in the Indian skies these days. With more Indians flying than ever before, and several new airlines beginning operations, the Indian aviation industry never looked so good.

Consider some figures. The Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udaan Academy (IGRUA) had only 10 students in its pilot training programme during the 1992-93 session. It has more than 90 candidates today. Again, five years ago, there were just three domestic carriers and one international one. Today, there are seven domestic carriers, and at least five more airlines are slated to begin their operations in the next five years.

Says Shivakumar Sundaram, chief instructor, Indian Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, Calcutta, “India will have an air fleet of more than 200 in the next five years. Considering the manpower requirement of each plane, one can safely assume that there will be plenty of jobs in the aviation sector in the coming years.” Sapna Gupta, chief executive officer of Air Hostess Academy (AHA), Delhi, agrees. The airline industry in India is expected to generate around 40,000 jobs in the next five years, she says. Moreover, several international airlines have started operations in the country and this too translates into more job opportunities.

Indeed, with the Indian aviation industry on a roll, the career options in this field are getting bigger and better. To cash in on the boom, you could opt to be a pilot, a member of the cabin crew or an aircraft maintenance engineer.

If you love precision, punctuality and high altitudes, a career as a commercial pilot could be your calling. Says Jitender Bhargava, director, public relations, Air India, “Every plane needs two pilots 'the commander who navigates the plane and the co-pilot. While it is not difficult to find co-pilots, commanders with the requisite experience are hard to come by. That’s one reason there are so many foreign appointments these days.”

The path to becoming a commercial pilot is not strewn with roses, though. The training is rigorous and you have to put in several hours of flying before you can get a licence. There are several flying schools across India that issue students pilot licences (SPL) or private pilot licences (PPL) after you complete the requisite flying hours. The licences are given by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). A commercial pilot licence (CPL) is issued once you complete 200 hours of flying.

To be eligible for a course in pilot training, you need to have passed Plus Two with physics, chemistry and maths. You also have to pass the medical tests prescribed by the flying schools.

But be prepared to shell out a hefty amount if you want to train as a pilot. For instance, at the IGRUA, you have to spend around Rs 16 lakh for a two-year course. But once you take to the skies, your salary can go sky-high. A co-pilot earns as much as Rs 1 lakh a month. With experience, a co-pilot is promoted to the post of a commander who earns anything between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 2 lakh a month.

The aviation industry throws up other interesting career options as well. The cabin crew, comprising air hostesses and pursers, is an essential part of an airline because it has to ensure that passengers have comfortable flights. Vijay Mallya went so far as to describe the members of his cabin crew as ‘flying models’ when he launched his Kingfisher Airlines.

To pursue a career in the cabin crew segment, you need to pass the higher secondary examination or be a graduate. You could also study for a diploma in hotel or tourism management.

Looks do matter

It is mandatory for both boys and girls who are keen to take up cabin crew posts to look good. All airlines prescribe certain physical requirements for their cabin crew members. Says Gupta of AHA, “In the past, air hostesses were selected primarily on the basis of their looks. But today, the overall personality matters a lot.” Therefore, air hostesses and pursers should have pleasing personalities, a polite demeanour, and sound health because they have to put in long hours of work.

The starting salary for an air hostess or a purser varies between Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,000 a month. The perks include discounted travel tickets and allowances for dresses and make-up. With some experience, you may be promoted to the level of a flight officer. You could also become a trainer later on in your career.

Various institutes offer training to would-be cabin crew members. Institutes like the AHA or the Frankfinn Academy of Airhostess Training have centres across the country.

Tech jobs

However, if becoming a pilot or a cabin crew member does not take your fancy, and if you are more interested in the technical aspects of an aircraft, you could opt for a career in aircraft maintenance engineering.

Says Sundaram of the Indian Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, Calcutta, “Aircraft maintenance engineers (AMEs) are the backroom boys of the aviation industry. They ensure that the aircraft, its engine and systems are trouble-free and safe before each flight.” No aircraft can take off unless an aircraft maintenance engineer licensed by the DGCA certifies it to be airworthy.

To be an AME, you need to pass STD XII with physics, chemistry and maths. You can enrol in any of the 35 DGCA-approved AME institutes in the country. Generally, they offer three-year courses. Basically, a student receives on-the-job training while taking the exams conducted by the DGCA.

As Sundaram points out, “It is a job where you are graded on your experience in working on different planes.” According to Sundaram, a trainee engineer can get as much as Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 a month. The salary can go up to Rs 1.25 lakh a month with five to 10 years’ experience.

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