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The highs and lows of being a pilot

By Richa Pant
Last updated on: January 29, 2007 16:52 IST
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Part I: Want to be a pilot? The sky's the limit

Part III: How to train to be a pilot

Part IV: Pilot's training too expensive? Here's help 

Part V: 'Why I like being a pilot'

A career as pilot appeals to many because it promises attractive salaries, the opportunity to travel around the globe, and other perks. In this article we explore the various employment options for pilots as well as the work profile of each, and give information on training options for pilots, how much it costs, eligibility etc.  

Commercial pilot

The job of a commercial pilot may sound glamorous and exciting. However, it requires intensive training, because the pilot is responsible for the lives of passengers as well as the aircraft itself.

After getting a Commercial Pilot's Licence, one starts off as a trainee pilot. The training period is usually around six months. Then you become a  pilot or first officer on board. The first officer refers to the actual designation given to the pilot, and is often referred to as the 'copilot'. First officers can upgrade to captain/commander depending on their seniority. This is determined by one's hours of flying experience and successful completion of various programmes. Then one becomes a senior commander. 
A pilot can get a job flying passenger and cargo flights for a domestic or international airline, or with organisations that maintain their own aircraft. With the sudden spurt in demand for pilots, on an average four to 10 pilots are required per aircraft. Private airlines are offering huge salaries for experienced pilots who have the endorsements required, often poaching on other carriers.

You could also be a helicopter pilot with a public or private sector corporate or work for a security agency. Helicopter pilots are absorbed in Pawan Hans (a Government of India enterprise) and by organisations such as Oil and Natural Gas Corporation that use helicopters.

Essentially, a pilot's job is to fly an airliner, for long or short hauls. But besides this, they also have additional duties as follows: 

  • Preparatory duties, like checking pre-flight plans before takeoff. 
  • Checking the route that the aircraft has to fly along with meteorological information. 
  • Plotting flight pattern and filing the flight plan with appropriate officials. 
  • Obtaining and reviewing data, such as load weight, fuel supply, weather conditions, and flight schedule. 
  • Ordering changes in fuel supply, load, route, or schedule to ensure flight safety. 
  • Conducting preflight checks and reading gauges to verify that fluids and pressure are at prescribed levels. 
  • Operating radio equipment and contacts control tower for takeoff, clearance, arrival instructions, and other information. 
  • Coordinating flight activities with ground crew and air-traffic control, and informing crew members of flight and test procedures. 
  • Conducting in-flight tests and evaluations, at specified altitudes, in all types of weather to determine receptivity and other characteristics of equipment and systems. 
  • Logging information, such as flight time, altitude flown and fuel consumption. 
  • Drawing up flight reports post-flight, which mention any equipment problems or general difficulties.

Salary scope: Commercial pilots get attractive remuneration and incentives, such as getting free/concessional tickets for the family. Once confirmed with the necessary endorsement, commercial pilots are paid handsomely. Entry-level pilots can earn up to Rs 1.5 lakh per month with domestic airlines and even higher on international routes. Senior pilots can earn in the vicinity of Rs 5 lakh upwards per month.

Pilots are also entitled to a range of benefits and allowances in addition to housing, medical and out-station allowances, as well as free/concessional air passages for their immediate family and dependents. This remuneration, to some extent, compensates for the high cost of training. Moreover, for those who like it, travel itself can be a rewarding experience.

Air Force pilot

Alternatively, you can look for a career in the Indian Air Force where you not only get your training paid for, but fly some of the most sophisticated aircraft available.

As a military pilot, you can work with the IAF and the aviation branches of Indian Army and Indian Navy. Being a military pilot is much more dangerous than being a commercial pilot, since your job is essentially to defend the country from enemy attack.
If you are stationed in a 'tense' area, you may be called on duty anytime. A pilot who has flown some 300-odd hours over the Drass-Kargil-Batalik axis during India-Pakistan tensions, says he had evacuated numerous casualties and been shot at many times.

You need to keep your exposure time (to enemy fire) to the minimum and get out fast. Many times you have to land under enemy fire.
A military pilot leads a military life, following orders, risking bodily harm and using lethal weapons. These aren't things to take lightly, so if you are considering the military, then explore it thoroughly and see if this is really what you want. It is an excellent option for many people.

For more information, visit the official web site of the Indian Air Force.

Salary scope: Fresh military pilots start at about Rs 20,000 per month. Get more details on the pay and perks and additional benefits of an IAF officer.

Private jet pilot

With the increase in salary packages of those working for corporate India, there is one manifestation of this trend -- the tremendous growth in money available to charter aircraft to avoid commercial airlines and airports.

Charters are the segment of private aviation that allows one to pick up the phone to book a fancy private jet to fly oneself and one's colleagues, relatives or friends in comfort and style from Destination A to B.

You could work as a pilot for a corporate entity or a high networth individual with their own aircraft.

There are generally no fixed travel routes and timings. One has to be ready to adjust to the irregularity in these areas.

Salary scope: Big money is now pouring into the private aviation market, and new players are setting up shop. There's a saying in the private-jet business: If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it. This should give some indication about the salary scope of a private-jet pilot where, figuratively speaking, sky is the limit.

Bizjet owners often pay the same salaries to pilots and engineers as the large airlines. According to a recent report in a national daily, the cost to company for an experienced pilot is now about Rs 50 lakh per annum, and Flight Commanders are difficult to find even at these salaries.

Tomorrow: Training schools, fees and eligibility

Part I: Want to be a pilot? The sky's the limit

Part III: How to train to be a pilot

Part IV: Pilot's training too expensive? Here's help 

Part V: 'Why I like being a pilot'

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Richa Pant