Indonesian pilots see the sky is limited

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Students train to fly an aircraft at the state-owned Indonesian Aviation Institute (STPI) in Curug, Banten. Photo courtesy of STPI

The Indonesian transportation ministry plans to kick off development of new airports in 13 locations from 2017 to 2019 to meet Indonesia’s growing appetite for infrastructure and to increase the number of people using air transport for domestic and international travel.

In its 2017 outlook, the ministry said some of its goals this year is to increase the country’s air transport capacity by developing new airports, expanding existing ones and improving links to remote areas.

It also aims to increase people flying domestically by 6.1% to 95.9 million and those flying international flights by 4.8% to 19.9 million in 2017.

But whether these goals would provide more job opportunities to absorb flying schools graduates into working as actual pilots remains to be seen.

Currently, there are at least 900 local pilots who couldn’t find jobs with local airlines, Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said during the launch of a campaign to increase public awareness of air transport safety in Jakarta in early December.

Budi’s statement was in contrast with previous statements by officials over the past years, that Indonesia was short of pilots as the growth of the aviation industry was outpacing that of pilot training.

Ali Nahdi, the vice president Indonesian Pilots Federation, said the actual number of jobless rookie pilots in Indonesia was higher than what the minister said.

“It’s actually more than a thousand and the number is growing. The government and all stakeholders including airlines need to seriously work together to find a solution,” Ali said.

The minister said he plans to put in place a number of programs and introduce better training courses to improve local pilots’ skills in a bid to solve the problem.

In its 2017 outlook, the ministry said it plans to produce 2,531 air transport academy graduates between 2017 and 2019, including 752 this year.

“We have to impose certain requirements for foreign pilots to work in Indonesia. I think we are quite open but it would irresponsible for us if our pilots have fewer opportunities,” Budi said.

In terms of providing better training to improve pilot’s capabilities, Ali expects the government will go ahead with the new program despite the high cost of training rookie pilots to obtain ratings to fly certain type of aircraft.

“It would also be up to the airlines to recruit more local pilots in accordance to their needs and requirements’,” he said, adding that airlines and the pilots they hire could work out a scheme to anticipate the costs of obtaining pilot certification to fly specific airplanes.

“Otherwise the government and flying schools in the country should start thinking to reduce admission for new students. We surely don’t want them to graduate without job opportunities to fly,” Ali said.

Indonesia has 24 flying schools, including two that are owned by the government. According to the head of the human resource development center at the ministry, Yuli Sudoso Hastono and they produce 65 new pilots every year.

“But those flying schools don’t train pilots to acquire the qualifications required by airlines,” Yuli was quoted as saying by Liputan6.com.

Ali said another stumbling block is the mindset among pilots that they have to work for major commercial airlines, when there are also opportunities at smaller, commuter airlines or chartered services.

An aviation lecturer from Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Arista Atmadjati, agreed that new pilots tended to be picky when it came to finding jobs in the already fierce workforce competition.

“They don’t want to fly for small airlines serving routes in remote areas,” Arista said, citing Susi Air, an airline serving remote areas in the archipelago owned by Maritime and Fisheries Affairs Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, which has 80% foreign pilots in its workforce.

On the other hand, most airlines don’t want to invest in the new pilots’ training so that they are certified to fly the airlines’ specific aircraft. Meanwhile, there are foreign pilots better equipped with type rating certifications who are ready to fly.

It shows that demand for pilots, not just for regular airlines but also for chartered and commuter airlines, remains high in Indonesia.

“The new pilots could be absorbed in the workforce if they were not so picky as there are a lot of small airlines flying in remote areas,” Arista said.

“Otherwise foreign pilots will continue to take the jobs as many of them work here seeking to acquire more flying hours,” he added.

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