India Is Suffering From The Worst Pilot Shortage It’s Ever Seen

IndiGo, the Indian low-cost carrier, was forced to cancel 75 flights over the weekend due to ‘weather’. But an insider reports that they actually lack airline captains and have empty jets just sitting on the ground.

Rumors claim that the airline actually needs at least 100 new airline captains (senior pilots who have many hours) right now.

IndiGo has a fleet of over 200 aircraft, and not enough pilots to fly them all. Source: IndiGo

What are the details?

Over the weekend, there was a big storm in Northern India that caused several delays. Not only did this result in cancelations, but also issues with repositioning the required crew around for future services.

Due to a severe hailstorm in North India on Friday, February 7, 2019, 11 IndiGo flights were diverted. Consequently, this disrupted operations across our network the following day. As part of recovering our schedule, positioning of the crew and aircraft had to be readjusted. As a result, a number of flights were cancelled. We regret the inconvenience caused to our customers.” – Statement from IndiGo

However, it is rather telling that a single hailstorm can wipe out so many flights from one airline. That they don’t have the backup crew, or supply of pilots to be able to be flexible.

IndiGo has 209 jets (A mix of Airbus A320-200s and A320neos) and around 3,000 pilots to fly them. However, they only seem to have 70% pilot capacity, resulting in a 30% shortfall with their fleet. This is due to growing so rapidly that the world pilot shortage has hit them hard.

This means working conditions for the remaining pilots and captains is hard. So hard that on rostered days off pilots are called into work, those on standby almost always get called in and there has been one event in which a pilot at home sick was asked ‘just how sick are you?’. In India, the maximum amount of weekly hours a pilot is allowed to work is 125 hours. These pilots are working 100 hours on average, flying up to four sectors/flights in a single day.

One new recruit saw their roster of ’75’ hours (in total up to 100-110) and quit on the spot.

Pilot and crew post in front of an IndiGo aircraft. Photo: IndiGo.

These extra hours have led to pilots getting ill and tired, unable to function after the week and need more time off. And as a pilot in charge of hundreds of lives, you would want them to be as focused as possible.

“I get paid well, but what’s the use of it. After so much fatigue I fall sick and use that extra money on medical bills.” – Anonymous Pilot for IndiGo

But these new pilots are going to be hard to come by. The Indian aviation authority highly recommends that pilots be recruited locally from India, but with all airlines in the sub-continent experiencing pilot shortages, there simply is not a supply of experienced aircraft captains.

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