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Indian airlines clamp down on foreign pilot outsourcing

Following instructions from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Indian carriers are sending a message to their foreign pilots: thanks, but it is time to pack your bags and go back home.

Since 2002 when the Indian aviation sector opened up, it has grown at a phenomenal 30%+ year on year and foreign pilots were the only solution. More than 800 foreign pilots heeded the call to come to India.

In 2008 as the crash came and sent India’s airlines in to a tailspin, carriers desperate to cut costs, did an abrupt turn-around and have started sending their expatriate pilots home as an when their contracts are expiring.

Adding to the woes of the foreign pilots, it is election season in India, and foreign pilot outsourcing is proving as politically sensitive as IT outsourcing is in the United States or in Europe.

We remember the fiasco and mayhem created last October when Jet Airways tried to lay off 1,900 staff. Politicians across parties pressured Jet to re-instate all the employees, never mind the fact that it was and still is their lopsided policies, that have a significant contribution to the sorry plight of the airlines in India today.

Around the world, governments are making it more difficult to outsource work to foreign workers in a bid to raise employment levels for native citizens. In India firing foreign pilots doesn’t set any alarm bells ringing and all airlines have been instructed to be “expat pilot free” by July 2010.

I feel sorry for the pilots. With the global economic slowdown and even growth markets like India laying off pilots, who will hire them?

In my sit-down with SpiceJet CEO Sanjay Aggarwal, he told me the airline will meet the July 2010 government deadline despite. The airline’s 42 expatriate pilots (about half of its captains) along with the rest of their foreign colleagues are looking out for their next job really hard.

It raises an interesting debate. Many jobs are outsourced to India to save cost on a similar value add. Foreign pilots cost more but also deliver a higher value add. If India does not want to be a victim of outsourcing protectionism, should it force airlines to fire expatriate pilots?

Share your thoughts via a comment.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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