Becoming a Pilot in India

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For aspiring pilots.. in INDIA ( spl. report.. by pilot himself)

Of late, I have been flooded with phone calls, emails and scraps from people from various walks of life – 12th standard pass outs to engineers to commerce graduates to even chartered accountants, anxiously and excitedly inquiring about pilot training. The type of inquiries made and the expectations most of these people have has made me realize that perhaps the aviation boom in India has been over-hyped to such an extent that it has created certain false impressions and hopes. In view of this, I would like to clarify the following things about becoming a commercial pilot:

1. The first and foremost thing I want to emphasize is that being a commercial pilot is NOT, I repeat NOT an easy escape from the difficulty of other careers! It is as difficult, demanding and effort consuming as being an engineer or doctor, with an added negative aspect – EXTREMELY HIGH STRESS LEVELS. Being an airline first officer or commander is not at all just about sitting in an air-conditioned automated aircraft, hopping across various cities everyday, staying at posh hotels and being paid for it! Get real guys! There is not a single dream job like that in the world. If it existed, I’m sure everybody would be doing only that by now. The above-mentioned things are perquisites that go along with your actual work, and are not the work itself! The strain and rigorous effort needed to get trained to fly even a small propeller aircraft is humongous! To assume the responsibility of an airline-level jet as well as operate it as per every standard and norm imposed by the DGCA and the company demands an ability equivalent of a good engineer, the alertness of a manager, the accuracy of a good weatherman, the sound knowledge of regulations, PLUS constant presence of mind and self innovation to tackle everyday situations, each of which will be unique.

2. Training to become a pilot is one of the toughest things in the world – I’m not joking! It is only the amount of BOOKISH EFFORT that is less in flight training – though, by all means, there is plenty of that also. Becoming a pilot is not as easy as simply enrolling in an institute and logging your hours. There are at least 10 procedures involved in it viz. Police verification, Board verification, Computer number application, theory exams application, SPL, FRTOL, theory coaching, Class 2 medical, Class 1 medical, COP (RTR), flight training, license and rating applications. You will have to sweat it out and run around a lot for each of these procedures, and EACH of them will take you a minimum of 3 months to complete.

3. Becoming a pilot means obtaining and holding at least 6 CURRENT documents viz. SPL, FRTOL, Class 1 Medical assessment, pass in the required 5 theory exams (which are quite difficult to pass by the way), COP (RTR) and logbook of flight training done as per syllabus. EACH of these has a separate validity period, from 6 months to 2-1/2 years, and if you cannot complete your training within that time, that particular license would lapse and will have to be renewed. This will involve higher costs and more running around, thus there is tension to finish training very fast, which is not practically possible. After becoming a pilot, your instrument rating and night rating will have to be renewed every six months, COP (RTR) will have to be renewed every 3 years, and Class 1 medical will have to be renewed every year up to the age of 40. The last one is especially dicey, you could be grounded medically anytime, and depending on the duration, it can spoil your flight training and even ruin your career for life!

6/24/06 4. This is an important point – there is NO SUCH THING AS JOB GUARANTEE OR 100% PLACEMENT! Any institute that proclaims this is trying to attract you with false promises. Hello?? Guys, wake up! Is there any such thing as a job guarantee in any career?? Even if you’re a student at an IIM or IIT, is a job guaranteed for you?? What a ridiculous thought! If that were so, then all you would have to do is get yourself into an institute and sleep away the rest of your days – hey, guaranteed job, right? To even desire such a thing seriously is proof that you want something for nothing – a free life! Get that thought out of your heads, otherwise it will wreck you! Moral preaching apart, there is no job guarantee for pilots, in fact, getting a pilot’s job is MUCH MORE DIFFICULT than getting a job as an engineer, MBA or call-center officer. Since the industry is not as well organized as hard-core ones, it is difficult to say when vacancies will appear in which company, or how many there will be. When vacancies do appear, you will have to compete along with many experienced pilots like flight instructors or charter pilots for the same post! The entry process for most airlines involves written test, pychometry, interview, simulator check/instrument check and company medical – 5 layers to get through! Most companies charge you for each of these layers.

5. Contrary to popular opinion, professional flying is difficult, as I’ve already mentioned. There are too many professional and human constraints to be followed in the job. Your family and social lives will have to be sacrificed greatly at least in the junior years. You will have to undergo skill tests and proficiency checks at least every 6 months in an airline, and believe me, you have to be on your toes if you don’t want to be grounded or laid off…

…It’s not akin to driving a car where the skill remains – it involves constant up gradation both practically and theoretically; why, I’m sure one look at the theory required for just the basic CPL exams will scare off quite a few people.

6. There are a lot of heartaches and frustrations in flying – from financial problems to political competition to lack of flight instructors to medical grounding. The entire process of becoming a pilot will entail a minimum investment of Rs.13-14 lakhs, and this does not include Multi Engine Rating or Instructor Rating or any post – job airline training costs, which may be an additional Rs. 10 – 25 lakhs. You may have passed all your theory papers and be first in line for training and the most interested and best flyer, yet you may be a victim of favoritism, nepotism and influence. There is nothing that can be done about this. If your flight instructor suddenly leaves his job for another, leaving you stranded, there is not much you can do about that either.

My motive is not to discourage people from aspiring to become pilots, but to attempt a segregation of the die-hards and the wannabes. If you are bored with or tired of your present career and want a refreshing change, FLYING IS NOT FOR YOU. If you are bad at studies or do not wish to struggle much in life, FLYING IS NOT FOR YOU. If you want a stable, risk-free, secure career option, FLYING IS NOT FOR YOU. If you are looking at alternative, off – beat career options, FLYING IS NOT FOR YOU. If you “want to be pilot coz its cool”, FLYING IS NOT FOR YOU (you may try Microsoft Flight Simulator).

To even think of becoming a pilot, you must be seriously passionate about it and willing to risk a lot in life – financially and otherwise. You must be prepared to face insurmountable obstacles and heart-wrenching grief in your endeavor. You must be ready to suffer terrible injustices in your quest. You must be willing to struggle like a madman, with no destination in sight, plodding on only fuelled by the hope that you may make it someday. You must be prepared to live badly and poorly for maybe even your entire life. Yes, what I am saying is that flying must be the primary love of your life if you want to attempt a career at it, just like music was the primary love of Beethoven’s life.

I hope this article has been helpful to a lot of you who dream of being pilots. If you’ve fully understood the challenges involved and still want to start the adventure, I will be glad to help you out. Cheers and fly high.

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