Industry insiders report that Air India will need over 6,500 pilots to manage the operation of 470 planes from Airbus and Boeing that are expected to be delivered in the upcoming years. The airline is looking to expand its fleet and operations and has placed an order for a whopping 840 aircraft, which also includes a choice to purchase 370 planes, making it one of the largest aircraft orders in the history of any airline.
At present, Air India has a fleet of 113 aircraft, and approximately 1,600 pilots to manage them. However, the airline has faced issues in the recent past with regard to cancellations or delays of ultra-long-haul flights due to a shortage of crew.
According to a source, Air India’s two subsidiaries, Air India Express, and AirAsia India have a total of approximately 850 pilots to operate their combined fleet of 54 planes. In contrast, the joint venture between Tata Group and Singapore Airlines, Vistara, has over 600 pilots for its 53 aircraft fleet.
The collective fleet of Air India, Air India Express, Vistara, and AirAsia India, consisting of 220 aircraft, are managed by slightly over 3,000 pilots.
Air India has placed an order for 210 A320/321 Neo/XLR and 40 A350-900/1000 aircraft from Airbus, while also placing an order for 190 737-Max, 20 787s, and 10 777s from Boeing.
According to a knowledgeable source, Air India has ordered 40 A350s primarily for its ultra-long-haul flights lasting over 16 hours. Each A350 will require 30 pilots, including 15 commanders and 15 first officers, amounting to a total of approximately 1,200 pilots required to operate the A350s alone.
The same source reported that one Boeing 777 requires 26 pilots to operate, meaning that the induction of 10 such planes will require 260 pilots. Similarly, the operation of 20 Boeing 787s would require around 400 pilots, with each aircraft requiring 10 commanders and 10 first officers.
Therefore, the total number of pilots required for the induction of 30 wide-body Boeing planes would be 660.
As per industry standards, an average of 12 pilots is required to operate each narrow-body aircraft, such as the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 Max. Therefore, for Air India’s fleet of 400 narrow-body planes, approximately 4,800 pilots will be needed to operate them.
Air India’s Chief Commercial Officer, Nipun Agarwal, stated in a LinkedIn post on Thursday that the airline’s order includes 470 firm aircraft, 370 options, and purchase rights, which will be acquired from Airbus and Boeing over the next ten years.
Pankaj Shrivastava, former Commercial Director of Air India, has emphasized the need to create adequate opportunities for Commercial Pilots License (CPL) holders to receive type ratings, which is specialized training that qualifies pilots to operate specific types of aircraft.
Shrivastava believes that Air India would have a plan in place to ensure that these additional aircraft are not left unused, as the airline would not have placed such a substantial order with the intention of grounding the planes.
Although the new aircraft will not be inducted immediately, Pankaj Shrivastava believes that Air India, along with Airbus and Boeing, will have ample time to create a sufficiently large pool of pilots by providing adequate flight simulators and training opportunities.
Furthermore, Air India has already announced its intention to establish a training academy earlier this year, which is a new initiative for the Tata Group. This initiative will likely contribute to the development of a qualified pool of pilots to operate the newly acquired aircraft in the future.
Air India CEO Campbell Wilson has stated that the academy, led by former AirAsia India CEO Sunil Bhaskaran, will compete with the best institutions in the world. He further added that with the growth of the aviation industry in the upcoming years, there will be a significant demand for thousands of trained pilots, engineers, cabin crew, airport managers, and other specialists. As India’s primary airline, it is their obligation and necessity to cultivate and nurture this talent.