IndiGo lures its A320 pilots to fly turboprop planes

A  shortage of trained pilots has forced India’s largest airline into to ask pilots of its jetliners to fly turboprop planes. In a strategy shift, IndiGo had ordered 50 ATR-72 planes in May to foray into regional aviation. It is likely to get seven planes by March and plans to operate 85 daily flights to 14 destinations from November.

According to internal mails reviewed by Business Standard, the airline has launched a programme under which commanders of its A320 planes have been given the option to fly ATR-72 aircraft for two years. “To support the launch of turboprop operations, we are excited to announce a voluntary launch assistance programme for IndiGo captains. Participants will assist the launch of the turboprop operations by flying ATR aircraft for a limited period, after which they will have the option to return to the A320,” Ashim Mitra, vice-president (flight operations), said in a note to pilots on July 15. 

However, the programme hasn’t got a favourable response until now. “Jet engine aircraft is always best for long-term career prospects. Normally, the course of journey for a pilot is turboprops to narrow-body jets, and then, if opportunity comes, he would move to wide bodies. Why would someone go the other way?” a commander, who did not want to be named, said.

An IndiGo spokesperson didn’t respond to queries. With only Jet Airways and Alliance Air operating ATR aircraft, there is a scarcity in the market for experienced turboprop pilots who can serve as commanders. It takes at least three months of training in a simulator and route checks (flying under supervision of instructors) to get a command.

Moreover, a recent notification by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, making one-year notice period compulsory for commanders, has made it difficult for IndiGo to lure pilots from rivals at a higher salary.

In order to make pilots consider flying turboprops, the airline has offered additional allowances and incentives equivalent to three months of current gross salary. The airline has also said that if a pilot agreed to the terms, he would enjoy certain benefits in terms of career prospects in the long term. “The captain will have an advantage in terms of administrative seniority compared to ATR pilots that are hired from outside the company. This may provide advantaged position for potential upgrades to leadership role,” Mitra has said in the note.

The airline is also eyeing expat pilots to counter the scarcity. According to sources, it is offering a salary of $17,164 per month for expats. “Expats are always a costly proposition for an airline and, therefore, they want their own pilots to shift,” said the pilot.

In order to tackle shortage of pilots for A320s, IndiGo had earlier launched its own training programme, opted for lateral hiring of senior pilots. 

As part of the programme, the airline tied up with two training institutes — UK-based CTC Aviation and CAE — from where they identify fresh graduates and trained them to become commercial pilots.

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