Air India Express, the budget wing of the national carrier, is facing a serious shortage of commanders or senior pilots as almost one-fourth of them have left their jobs in the last 12 months.

Over 25 commanders out of the total 102 have left the airline in the past one year, an airline official told PTI.

“From a peak of 102, we now have only 76 commanders to pilot 21 aircraft. This is because 26 pilots have either completed their contract or quit the job in the last one year,” the official, who requested anonymity, said.

A majority of those who have put in their papers at the Air India Express are expatriate pilots in command position.

The official attributed the reason for these foreign pilots quitting to the deadline of July 31, set by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for Indian carriers to phase out expat pilots.

The deadline has now been extended by one year following requests by most of the Indian airlines, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel had said recently.

The official said since there was “uncertainty” over the deadline, some of the pilots had put in their papers as they did not want to take a risk.

While over 80 pilots are currently being imparted command training to occupy the right seat of the aircraft or the commander’s position, the entire exercise would take about 3-4 months to be completed.

These pilots would be able to takeover as commanders only after they are certified. The AI Express flies mainly to the Gulf and the Southeast Asian routes.

Now, it has 204 flights a week to 14 international destinations, besides a few domestic ones.

According to an estimate, the airline ferried 2.5 million passengers in 2009-10 as against 2.2 million in 2008-09.

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