Cross Utilisation of Pilots in India

Inducting adequate pilots often becomes a big challenge for a helicopter operator who has to deal with the more pertinent challenges of frugal pricing and low operating margins

Issue: BizAvIndia 3/2019By Per Smedegaard, CEO, IndocopterIllustration(s): By Anoop Kamath
By Per Smedegaard,
CEO, Indocopter


DGCA, the Indian aviation regulator, has imposed some very stringent and somewhat unnecessary restrictions for utilising pilots of other companies.This greatly affects the small aircraft operators viz. who operate helicopters, light turboprops and light jet aeroplanes. The average combined fleet size for such operators ranges between 1-3 aircraft (which may include both helicopters and aeroplanes).

Therefore, inducting an adequate compliment of pilots often becomes a big challenge, especially for a helicopter operator who has to deal with the more pertinent challenges of frugal pricing and low operating margins.

DGCA stipulates that an operator may hire/utilise the pilot of another company only if its own pilot is on statutory or medical leave; or has to undergo training; or has left the organisation without adequate notice. To add to this, there are limitations for duty time and flight time for pilots (to reduce fatigue and enhance flight safety). In simpler terms, it means that an operator cannot utilise him/her continuously beyond a certain number of days. If you consider the above scenario, particularly in case of helicopter operators, a pilot is effectively available for only about a little more than six months in a year; and, if the flying operations are intense (e.g. passenger ferry services at Shri Kedarnath Ji, Mata Vaishno Devi Ji, etc.), the pilot may exhaust his statutory limits within 16 days.

To conclude, these restrictions (let me reiterate that the limitations imposed for duty/flight time to reduce fatigue are necessary) greatly burden an operator, both financially and in terms of operational readiness. Most helicopter operators lose out on valuable business opportunity, which only makes their predicament even worse.

For an industry marred with unstable pricing (rather underpricing), negligible growth and a grim future, any waivers from the regulator (DGCA) to allow operators to off-set costs by cross-utilising resources, albeit limited to using each other’s pilots for the timebeing, would be very encouraging indeed.