Proposal to nullify pilot license if unused for over 3 years draws flak

MUMBAI: Pilots who don’t use their flying license for over three straight years stand to lose it, according to an amendment to the existent aviation regulations, proposed recently by the civil aviation ministry. For thousands of jobless pilots in India, the draft amendment, if passed, would mean spending thousands of rupees every three years to fly, in order to hold on to their flying licenses. Currently, that minimum mandatory flying to keep a license valid needs to be done only once every five years.
The extraordinary gazette published on September 30 lists the draft rules amending the Indian Aircraft Rules-1937 and is currently open for objections and suggestions till month end. The draft rules increase the validity of a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) and the higher, Airline Transport Pilot License(ATPL) to ten years from the current five years. But with a condition, which appears on page 18. It states: “In case where the privileges of the licence has not been exercised during the validity period of licence, for a period exceeding 03 years, the applicant shall be required to requalify in examinations and skill tests required for issue of such licence before exercising the privileges of such licence.”
“The new rules will reduce the workload on the aviation regulator as each license will come up for renewal every ten years and not five years,” said a flying training instructor. “But it adds to the woes of jobless pilots. A student spends Rs 25-30 lakh to earn a CPL. India has over 5000 jobless CPL holders currently. The proposed change will send them to flying school every 3 years where they will do some minutes of flying with an instructor to hold on to their license. With Covid and Jet Airways closure, life was anyway tough for jobless pilots burdened with heavy education loans and EMIs,” he said. “The clause is ambiguous as well. How many minutes or hours of flying should be done to not lose the license isn’t mentioned,” he added.
Said a senior airline pilot, requesting anonymity: “No other country threatens to take away your flying license in this manner.” In the US, for instance, a flying license is valid for a life-time. A pilot who hasn’t flown for long, undergoes a refresher training followed by a skill test to recommence flying, he added. Capt Amit Singh, an air safety expert said: “If an engineer or a doctor hasn’t used their skillset for three years, they aren’t sent back to the first year of college to reappear for all exams.” That is what the amendment proposes; pilots who haven’t flown for over three years have to clear exams and requalify again. “The amendment makes it more difficult to keep a flying license valid, but without enhancing safety,” he said.
Capt Ajit Agtey, retired Jet Airways and retired IAF pilot said: “Fundamentals have to be understood very clearly. The flying license is a qualification, which cannot expire. Currency on aeroplane will expire, which will need to be renewed. But the licence cannot expire.” He too used a similar analogy, that of a doctor, an engineer. “If an engineer gets employed as a banker (so many do), his BE/B-Tech qualification does not expire- ever. If he subsequently wants to seek employment as an engineer, his qualifications allow him to do so. His potential employer will want him to do some sort of refresher, but his qualifications remain intact. Why discriminate against pilots?,” said Capt Agtey. “It appears as if the civil aviation regulator has decided, in advance,that life has to be made difficult/miserable for the pilots. There’s a hidden and unwritten agenda behind it,” he alleged.
Among the worst hit of the lot, if this amendment is passed would be Jet Airways cadet pilots, especially those from middle-class backgrounds. “It has cost my parents over Rs 1 crore to fulfill my dreams of becoming a pilot,” said a post put up by a cadet pilot on social media. There is extensive cost involved in pursuing a career as an airline pilot in India. Apart from flying training (Rs 35-40 Lacs) student pilots have to have a class 2 and then class 1 medical certificate (costs approximately Rs 30,000 for tests, travel, accommodation etc), clear five ground exams which require students, living in non-metros to travel to cities with exam centers (about Rs 70,000) and score a minimum of 70 out of 100 to pass the exam. There is also a major cost of applying for airline entrance exams ( about Rs 40,000) and a training cost which needs to be paid to the airline for training (about Rs 18 lakh to Rs 50 lakh)," the pilot said. <br>"I had worked very hard towards securing a job as a pilot with Jet Airways. My batchmates and I have made a payment of Rs 32 lakh to the management at Jet Airways as a training cost and have not received any training in return. Because of the current situation of the aviation industry and lack of new jobs, I have taken a job that is keeping my family and me afloat," the post read. <br>"I have been a part of the aviation industry for 10 years as a CPL holder. Currently, the Indian CPL has to be renewed every 5 years but now with this new draft that is about to change to 3 years. Five years would give me enough time to save the money required for flying since I'm currently not employed as a pilot on payroll," the pilot said. <br>The cost of renewal includes membership fees paid to the flight school for one year ( about Rs 7000), 3 hours of flying (Rs 35,000 +10,000 for checks) and cost of travel and accommodation.The total cost would amount to atleast Rs 70,000 to Rs 1 lakh,” the pilot said.
“There are other expenses that have to be incurred yearly like a class 1 medical and a loss of license insurance. The additional expense of license renewal within 3years will become a major financial burden to me and a lot of other pilots as well students as well as those currently unemployed,” the pilot added. “Extending this duration to more than 5 years will provide me and many of my batchmates pursuing their careers as pilots, major relief. We will be able to focus on studying and qualifying for airline interviews to secure jobs as an airline pilot.”

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