Overcoming the skills crisis in Indian aviation


Indian aviation has once again resumed its strong growth trajectory, with double-digit expansion since July 2009. This is good news for India's airlines and airports after a turbulent couple of years, but growth brings its own challenges. The need for high quality infrastructure is widely recognised and billions of dollars have been invested, and will continue to be invested in this area. Simultaneously with rapid growth, the regulatory framework is being modernised, and implementation of these more stringent standards will bring its own execution challenges. But ultimately, the ability to bring India in line with the global aviation community will hinge upon the skills and competency of the workforce, though education and training has virtually been an afterthought in Indian aviation.

  • Indian aviation has experienced strong growth since July 2009, but this growth brings challenges in terms of infrastructure and regulatory standards.
  • Education and training have been neglected in the Indian aviation industry, despite the importance of skilled personnel for safety and efficiency.
  • India has the potential to become a low-cost, high-quality aviation education and training hub for emerging markets in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
  • The demand for aviation education and training will be driven by factors such as regulatory changes, migration of skilled labor, and the expansion of allied industries.
  • Training is necessary not only for new employees but also to address attrition and keep incumbent employees updated with technological and regulatory advancements.
  • Projections show a significant demand for pilots, engineers, and cabin crew in the Indian aviation industry by 2020, with potential for even higher requirements.

The industry has muddled through by deploying ad hoc measures to fight fires. This approach will neither deliver a professional, sustainable and safe industry, nor will it allow India to take advantage of the opportunity to capitalise on its low cost labour to make aviation skills an export industry.

Education is key to India's future success in all endeavours. The government is increasing expenditure in this sector and is encouraging private sector participation. Indeed, Kapil Sibal, Minister of Human Resources and Development, has suggested that investment in the education revolution could be even greater than was seen during the liberalisation of telecoms.

Certainly the thirst for education could not be clearer. More than 250,000 Indian students go abroad to study at any time, making them one of the largest overseas student populations in the world. Indians, for example, form by far the largest international contingent at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, one of the world's leading aviation and aerospace higher education institutions.

And yet, when developing a vision for the future, the aviation industry attaches low priority to human resources planning. The resultant crises necessitate quick fixes which in the end cost more and deliver sub-optimal outcomes.

As we set out in this report, not only is a vibrant, world class education and training sector essential for the safety and efficiency of Indian aviation, but taking one step further, India has the potential to develop as a low cost, but high quality aviation education and training hub for the wider region of emerging markets across Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

The growth prospects for Indian aviation

The growth of the aviation industry will not happen without the availability of qualified personnel across every discipline, including pilots, cabin crew, engineers, air traffic controllers, ground staff and handlers, administration and management. Each one of these roles requires education and training. This impacts not only airlines and airports, but every supplier across the value chain, as well as government regulators.

And growth in India is but one of several factors that will drive demand for education and training, with others including regulatory change, migration of skilled labour overseas and the expansion of allied industries such as aerospace.

Drivers of Demand for Aviation Education & Training

And this does not even take into account the impact on indirect employment, particularly in the tourism industry. IATA and ICAO for example estimate a multiplier of 5.8 direct and indirect jobs for every aviation industry employee. In a market such as India where there is a greater reliance on labour as opposed to automation, this figure may be even higher.

Training will be required not only to induct new employees into the industry, but also to address the loss of skilled employees through attrition, and as importantly to keep incumbent employees up to date with technological and commercial advances and regulatory changes. The industry will continue to see new airframe, engines and air traffic management procedures, particularly in light of the strong focus on fuel efficiency. This evolution will require continuous investment in training to higher and higher standards. In a fast changing environment, training cannot be a one-off activity.

And as India moves to the next level of regulation, in harmony with rising European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards, the quality of training required across the entire value chain will be need to be upgraded.

CAPA has developed some projections of the labour requirements for the Indian and Middle East aviation industries. These projections were developed by first constructing a forecasting model for the growth of traffic using regression analysis.

This was combined with a fleet forecast and assumptions for the number of pilots, cabin crew and engineers by different aircraft categories, together with attrition rates and adjustments for changes in productivity. Based on a scenario of average GDP growth of 8% for the period through to 2020, the projection for labour requirements in India is below. Indeed, our projections may even prove to be conservative.

This is an extract from an article containing the following sections:

  • Outlook for pilots, engineers and cabin crew in India by 2020
  • Graph: CAPA Research Projections for Pilots, Engineers and Cabin Crew in Indian Aviation
  • Competition from other markets
  • Graph: Projections for Pilots, Engineers and Cabin Crew in Middle East Aviation
  • Survey of education & training infrastructure in India:
    • Pilots
    • Engineers
    • Cabin Crew
    • Air traffic controllers
    • Management
    • Aerospace Engineering
  • Graph: Age Distribution of Aircraft Registered for Training in India
  • Outlook: Education and training in India is a clear opportunity

This article can be purchased separately by clicking here.

The full report is published in the Apr-2010 edition of CAPA's Monthly Essential India subscription report.

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