Expat pilots find another home || Times of India || 04-03-2007
Times of India(04-03-2007)
become a globc:l village. Not
on the ground, but in the sky too. Expat pilots
reflyi1Jginfrom allover to fill thesurgingidema.l1dhere-Sunday Times went on a voyage
of discovery with three expats andfound themloving India, itspeople, its culture....
ndia Shining is the current buzzword in many
sectors. But for eXI>at pilots, young or old.
from US. New Zealand or Indonesia, It could
well be India Flying. Drawn to India's thriving aviation market which is growing at a scorching rate of 25% a year, these pilots. ovor 500, find
the going good. And why not? More money, greater
exposure and Jobs galore, Insiders say airlines
incur $13.000-15,000per month on each expat. Yes,
families have to be left behind, but there's no gain
without pain, right?
I COMMANDER, AlliANCE
When passengers speak to 45-year-oldCapt Lexmono, an Indonesian pilot, in Hindi. he's foxed.
Can't blamethem.he looks
Indian. The Indian influence extends to his
name. a variation of
Laxman. "My father,
despite being a Muslim, was a huge fan of
My sister is called Sita
and mybrother,Yudhistira," he says
with an easy
This former Jatayu Airlines pilot joined Alliance Air on June 7. 2006, and was the second In.
donesian to do so. He flew B-737-2oosback home
100 and has had a chequered career. He started
flying in 1984 with Garuda Indonesia and then
went on to Sempati Air. After it stopped operations. he was jobless for two years. From 2000.
2001, he worked in Jatayu, but that too stopped
In 2006. "I was Jobless for just six days and then
gol the Alliance job luckily."
Though both India and Indonesia follow International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)
he finds them being enforced
more strictly here. He averages 70-85 hours of
Ask him about Indonesian pilots being sent
back for poor English skills and he admits, "Stan.
dards are higher here." Salaries too are better
than Indonesia. How much better? "I think about
100% better," he says, after some humming and
hawing. "Many are also coming here for the experience," he says. Alliance has 20 expats, 11 on
Boeings and nine on ATRs.
It wasn't easy leaving behind his wife and four
children, aged 17 to seven. "I asked my family
first if they were prepared to manage alone and
they said they would try. I miss them and cali
them everyday," he says.
He's missed by them too, especially recently
when his home got flooded in the incessant rains
and his wife had to shift the enUre family to safety.Like most expat pilots.. he gets home once every
,',two months for 10-15 days.
He's on a year's contract, and has ensconced
imself comfortably in a f\tlly-furnished flat
orket EsseI Towers in Gurgaon. "Inculturally akin to Indonesia, despite
ifferent languages and religions."
Imactically too, IndonesIa is ilke
I1CIlaand has cold and hot regions.
'. ..',e spicy food is so much like
,e. "I have even learned to
tton curry and biryani,"
lid like his stint here to
:erm and wants to bring
ily here. "But I have
y children to brush up
'English first. Myeld.
daughter is a singer.
's already earning her
, pocket money," says
,e proud papa.
As the lilting strains of
Indonesian music flood
!~" the room from a stereo,
~~"\you tell him, that sounds
,> good, Captain.
Salaries here are amongthe
best. Anyway, none of us has
come to work for free. But let's
face it; we aren't under any
illusion that we'll be here
forever. And none of us has a
crystal ball to tell us how long
the aviation boom will last.
Capt Jack Ekll SPICEJET
cent here." Spicejet has 16 expats.
So. why did he come to India? "I was fascinated
by India's economy, history, ancient architecture
and customs. India is on the cusp of a great time.
And strides in aviation will go hand.in.hand with
the economy," he says.
From the time Ekl was in the US military, to
exchange duty in Singapore. Hong Kong, etc, 10
S W Airlines. an airllne having some 42 daily fli.
ghts between Dallas and Houston, flying has been in his blood. Varied weather
here,like in the US, are no sweat for him. Andjust as the light goes off, he jokes, "That would never happen in the US WIless there's a snow-storm."
But what he still hasn't got a hang of here is
bargaining. "I can't negotiate as well as Indians.
CAPTSYEDABBAS: On the
GoIn the Air
CAPT JACK EKL I
This 60-year-old chief pilot of SOuthwest Airlines,
Dallas. has the rugged looks of a typical Ameri.
can. He joined Spicejet in September 2005. The
veteran aviator worked in low-cost carrier S W
Airlines for 22 years and has some 40,000 hours
of flying, 30,000 on the B.737salone. Spicejet, too,
has these planes and is modelled on that airline.
He's brought with him loads of professionalism
and strictness. But his warmth and humour leave
an indelible impression.
"My initial contract was for six months, but
I've been here forone-and.a.half years. I've made
friends here for life; Indians are kind and caring.
But I still haven't got used to the hot, spicy food,"
he says grinning. And language? "Thoda thoda
aata hai," he says haltingly. "But aviation parlance and procedures are the same everywhere.
Besides, Indians speak good English, Including
air traffic control. In fact, I'm the one with an ac.
late, they'll yell at you! Many
time fliers here and are simply glad to get back
to ground," he says,amused.As for salaries here.
they're among the best.'~nyway, none of ushas
come to work for free." He's enjoying his time
here. "But let's face it; we aren't under any iIlu.
sian that we'll be here forever." And then? "I'll
go back and do air shows like I did when I was
part of the Blue Angelsteam of the USNavy."
CAPT SYED ABBAS I
He's been flying Into India since 1996.AndCapt
Syed Abbas, a 3U-year.old Egyptian, liked it so
much he feels it's a home away from home. "I
it's all about
etable-seller, the grocer, the cloth merchant. Peo.
pie in the US don't negotiate on a daily basis. One
has to be adaptable here." He stays in DLF City
Club and makes sure he takes an Indian friend
along when he has to bargain. His five daughters
visit him occasionally. One of them is a 737
He's busy alright - doing check flights. simulator training in DUbai, Hong Kong and Mum.
bai, flying some 20 hours a week, administrative
work... And passengers? "The same everywhere
liked the environment, the warm people and the
culture. so like Egypt. that I decided this is where
I wanted to work next. I feel comfortable here."
And like a homing pigeon, he came here in 2005.
His international experience, be it with Egypt
Air or with Gulf Air where he new the royal family, came in handy during his first stint with Kingfisher. Subsequently, he joined GoAir in May 2006.
He couldn't have come at a better time. "No coun.
try needs pilots as badly as India does," he says.
And as airlines buy newer jets and expand, experienced
expats are being grabbed. Abbas's
knowledge of short; medium and long-range Airbuses (A-300-GOO,
A.320and A.340) was useful here.
"GoAir has six A-320s.of which two leased planes
are going back. From October 2007 till 2OOU.end,
we should be getting 10 new planes." He's flown
in all kinds of inclement weather - cold (Russia), hot (Africa). cyclonic (China, Japan) and icy
It.s obvious Mumbai.based Abbas is happy
here. "Indians are simple and friendly and not
stuck-up. It.s not about money or position. I could
get more money abroad. It's about satisfaction.
And GoAir is being run, not as a company, but as
where teamwork matters above
all." It has some 20 expats.
As an examiner, he's training pilots on Airbus variants, CAT-UI operations (30 trained last
year) and going for simulator training abroad.
"India urgently needs simulators," he says pas- I
sionately. "Training should be the mainstay of
any airline and with flying becoming a habit here,
safety is paramount."
And what of complaints Ihat expats are everready to throw UPtheir jobs for better salaries?
"Pilots should be professional. It's good to say
hello when you meet someone, but also Important to know how to say thank you and goodbye."
He's not proficient in Hindi, but manages with
accha and pucca, "And no, no bad
words," he says laughing. Besides English, he
knows French and Arabic. He's often mistaken
for an Indian, though his West Asian accent would
give him away. Any plans to go back to Egypt? "I
can go back anytime, but what I enjoy now is training Indian pilots," He stays at the Grand Hyatt
His young family in Cairo is sorely missed.
"This is my daughter," he says proudly, showing
a photo of a cute four.year-old wearing cooling
glasses on his mobile. "I plan to bring them to my
Indian home within a few months," he says wist.
fully. "And I will stay here as long as India is
happy with me, and I'm happy with India,
which will be forever." Yetanother Indophlle Joins