Though airlines are losing money at present, they are expanding with an eye on the horizon. Sharad is a mid-level executive. Until 2003, the 36-yearold who takes home Rs 50,000 a month (back in 2003, it was less than Rs 30,000), rarely travelled by air except on a few official trips a year. Thanks to the entry of low-fare airlines, Saxena has travelled by train only twice in the last four years. He flies five or six times and can afford to go on two-three holidays a year, which was almost unthinkable earlier.
Welcome to the aviation revolution, which is just beginning to unfold. Back in 2003-04, three domestic airlines had 123 commercial jets; today, six airlines fly 310 planes, selling 35 million seats a year more than twice the 15.6 million seats they sold in 2003-04.
But these airlines are still scratching the surface. The Indian Railways carries nearly 13 million people daily Compared . to that, the number of unique fliers in the country is not more than 10 million (many take multiple trips a year).
Although the airlines are losing money, they continue to add capacity – each airline is adding a plane or two a month despite an estimated 25 per cent surplus capacity which is putting pressure on their yields. But this may not last for long. People like Saxena, once used to air travel, will not go back to trains, unless fares go up significantly, which is unlikely given the competition and surplus capacity .
As incomes rise, many more people like Saxena will start flying regularly. That’s what Deccan executive chairman GR Gopinath calls “the tectonic shift”, in a reference to people taking to flying just like they did to mobile phones. And that’s when airlines will start making money .
Slicing pies in the sky Meanwhile, the market would consolidate as few players can sustain the losses. The weaker players will sell out to stronger rivals or shut shop. To an extent, this is already happening. Deccan Aviation, which owns budget carrier Air Deccan, has sold a 26 per cent stake to Vijay Mallya’s UB Holdings, which also owns the full service airline Kingfisher. Before that, Jet Airways acquired Air Sahara and rechristened it Jet Lite. The third big player is the state-owned Air India (and Indian, scheduled to be merged into it) which will become the most formidable group in the country The . next couple of years could see the emergence of three strong full-service carriers, a couple of large low-fare airlines, and a few regional carriers. The airlines will together take delivery of 480 planes till 2012 (they have added 150 planes in the last two years).
How to get in If you are thinking building a career in aviation, this is the right time. Airlines are expanding as they plan to fly overseas or start flying to more international destinations. For instance, Jet Airways will soon start flying to the US and Canada and Air India will start operating nonstop flights to the US.
Typically, there’s a lead time of six months to a year from the time an airline starts recruiting pilots, crew and engineers and the time it starts flying on international routes. In fact, Kingfisher has already started hiring pilots and engineers for its international foray. It has hired 48 engineers for wide body aircraft and is trying to lure Indians working with Middle East carriers. In five years, Kingfisher’s fleet will almost triple to 100 aircraft, including 50 wide-bodied planes. This will require it to increase its cabin crew to 3,500 (from 950 today), hire , ground staff (1400), 1,500 engineers (800), and 1000 pilots (397), said Kingfisher HR head Ruby Arya. By the year-end, the airline will add 1,200 cabin crew, 700 ground staff and 250 pilots. And we are just talking of just one airline, though one with the most aggressive plans.
What’s on offer Aviation offers many jobs, which includes licensed categories like engineers and pilots, who need a licence to fly and are certified by the regulator after they take exams from time to time. Then there are jobs that don’t require a licence like white-collar jobs on the ground, airport and customer services – people who do your check-in, ticketing, man the boarding gate or the step-ladders. This can be classified as ground staff, though some airlines euphemistically call them guest services. All you need for such a job is a graduate’s degree.
Schools for cabin crew : While airlines are still not sure how to value them, schools have sprung up to teach skills to make air hostesses and flight stewards. The crew undergo training in catering, first aid, general airborne procedures, documentation (the ones they have to complete after each flight), use of the public address system and details of aircraft pressurisation and ventilation. They are given lessons in the use of safety the emergency drill. At first the practical work is taught on the ground; later on, they have to gain flight practice as an extra.
Institutes : Global Institute, Indian Aviation Academyl, Air Hostess Academy, Frankfinn Institute, Flyers Inc After its impending merger with Indian,
Air-India, the national airline, will be largest in the country with a fleet of 122 planes connecting 58 domestic and more than 60 overseas destinations. As it will together have over 34,000 people, there is not much scope for new jobs, but pilots would be in demand. And many will retire in the next five years. Salaries are lower than private sector rivals, but job security and processes could be better.
Jet : The new entity will have a turnover of Rs 15,500 crore. After it acquired Air Sahara, Jet, India’s largest private airline group, has a combined fleet of over 93 aircraft, and a combined turnover of over Rs 9,500 crore. Jet alone has 11,000 people on its rolls (another 5,000 jobs are outsourced) and Sahara (renamed JetLite now) had 4,000 people. So, although it will add new routes, it can hardly afford to add too many people, except for jobs like pilots or crew. The UB Group-owned
Kingfisher, which changed course midway from a value carrier to a full-service airline, has tried to wean away business and other high-income fliers by creating a buzz around its services. This will help airline in its international foray for which it recently ordered for 50 more widebodied Airbus jets. It’s not amongst best pay masters in the industry but is playing on the charisma of its chairman Vijay Mallya and its ability to draw people.
The UB Group has picked up 26% in Deccan Aviation, which owns Air Deccan. The Rs 2,100-crore Air Deccan, which bought the concept of no-frills airline to India and made it possible for many middleclass Indians to fly often, is the largest budget carrier with a 18.30 per cent market share. The UB Group has picked up 26 per cent in it. Its aggressive growth has also stretched its resources. Ir is not amongst the better paymasters but offers a challenging job environment.