TOPICS : Pilots: No flights of fancy

Most of the districts in Nepal are still not accessible through road. Air travel remains the sole means of communication and transport. Though airline services in Nepal started in the 1950s, it was only in 1992 that the government implemented an open sky policy. Open sky policy facilitated private participation in the airline industry and within a year private airlines started their operation.

Officially, around 35 companies have acquired government licence to operate airline services

in Nepal so far.

Earlier, it was only the Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation and the Royal Nepalese Army that sent competent candidates (selected on the basis of free competition) for pilot training in countries like India, Pakistan, the USA, Canada and the UK. Others were inducted if they had completed necessary training as and when vacancies opened up. The airline industry grew by leaps and bounds, but it had to do without experienced pilots who remained in short

supply. High competition resulted in pilots being lured away by the private airlines from the two established organisations.

Now, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), while over 35 private airlines have the Air Operator Certificate (AOC), the total number of pilots is just about 150 (as per Nepal Pilot Association). This clearly indicates that the airline industry is short of pilots, and airline companies are either having to hire foreign pilots or operate fewer flights despite the enormous potential for growth. Shortage of pilots, however, is not only a domestic concern. Neighbouring countries like India and China need to produce over 1,000 pilots a year to meet the domestic demands of the aviation industry.

Despite the burgeoning demand of the aviation industry, it is sad that there is only one pilot training school in Nepal (which has been operating for last one year). The handful of pilots produced by this lone training school would provide little relief to the aviation industry. Furthermore, the number of air passengers in Nepal has been increasing dramatically. If enough pilots are not produced, the industry is likely to suffer a severe crunch.

A few right steps on the part of the government will go a long way towards bridging the gap between demand and supply. Without deviating from the safety standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, CAAN needs to change some of its policies, making it possible for students to complete Commercial Standard 200/250 hours of training in less time as compared to other countries.

Presently, the daunting task for any flying school in Nepal is to operate in the often-unfriendly environment and come up with a few competent batches. If this can be done, there is a high possibility that more flight training centres will be opened — such schools will attract both Nepali and foreign students. Thus, Nepal can be self-reliant and produce competent pilots for the domestic market, saving a lot of time and money.