The desire to fly high is in all of us whatever field we may choose. However, when it comes to becoming a pilot in India, the road is a very bumpy one.
Darius Moose* graduated in science and then decided to become a pilot. He wanted to go to the USA and learn to fly. So he applied to one of the many pilot training schools there and they sent him a letter stating that he had been admitted. He filled in an I-20 form for which he paid $500 (approx Rs 23,000).
He paid $43,000 (approx Rs 20 lakh) as school fees for the entire course. He was told that accommodation, travel from school to the hostel and food was included in this fee. And so he left for the States, confident that he would return after the six-month course qualified to fly. But things weren't as simple as they seemed.
The first shock he received was when he reached the States and the promised transport was not available. The distance from his hostel to the air field was 4 km. "Public transport in that part of the States is pathetic and so I had to rent a car for $500 a month. The legal formalities to buy a car there are too many," he says.
The next shock proved to be a more expensive one. The flying course was supposed to be for six months. However, it did not finish in six months. He was finally there for 16 months and his expenses shot up to $64,000 (approx Rs 30 lakh).
The reasons for the delay? Bad weather, poor maintenance of the aircraft and the couldn't-care-less attitude of the instructors. "Most of the instructors were recent graduates themselves and they were more concerned about logging their flying hours than teaching us," he laments.
To add to the agony, students are required to meet with a progress check examiner once in six months. These examiners are licenced by the US government, but getting a date from an examiner was like getting an appointment with the US President himself!
Darius recollects that in four months he flew only six hours. According the information Darius had recieved, a student had to fly 35 hours for a private licence, but he actually flew 65 hours to get this. Then he had to fly 33 hours to learn the instruments (called hood time), which actually took 50 hours.
A student had to log a total of 225 flying hours inclusive of the above. This was followed by 25 hours of commercial flying.
Despite all of this, Darius did manage to earn his licence and return to India. Whatever little spirit he had managed to salvage inspite of the American experience, however, was killed by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) here.
He was told that he needed to convert his American flying licence (issued by the Federal Aviation Administration) to an Indian one. For this he had to take a medical examination and also appear for a written test. He was also told that he had to do this within six months of getting the American licence or else he would have to fly another 15 hours to keep his licence valid. These 15 hours would cost him anything between $5,000 to $8,000 (approx Rs 2.3 to 3.7 lakh).
There were two medical tests he had to do. The first one, called class 2, is easy. The second one is not. After the class 2 test he had to wait nine months for the class 1 test. The reason being that the class 1 test had to be approved by the DGCA. You then have to go to an Indian Air Force hospital, one approved by the DGCA. (In Mumbai Nanavati hospital is qualified to carry out this test.) So by the time he got his class 1 test, his licence had expired.
As for the written test, it is conducted once in three months. He applied to write it in August 2009, but they did not send him a roll number. When he called the office in Delhi he was told, "Come to Delhi". He was unable to go a week before his exams and thus did not take them. He then decided to appear in November 2009.
"Roll numbers are withheld till the last week before the exams. And if you don't get it, you are in big trouble if you are not a local of Delhi," he said.
And the syllabus for the exam? "The DGCA gave us a list of 200 books from where the questions would come," he says.
To keep his licence valid Darius spent more money in June last year to fly the necessary 15 hours. This gave him time till December to get his written test results. But, he could not appear in November either -- they could not find his name in the DGCA list.
For every delay here, Darius has to fly an additional 15 hours for which he has to go back to the US. In India he cannot fly since he doesn't have a licence. And local flying schools will not help him unless he pays their fees, ie enrolls as their student.
Then there is the Radio Telephone Operator licence. This is a licence that says you are qualified to talk to Air Traffic Control. This exam is held every two months and the fees are only Rs 400. But to actually get the licence you have to pay Rs 100,000 as a bribe. The bribe is actually 250 times the fees!
Darius has now decided that he is going to let his licence expire. "To make it current I will have to fly another 15 hours; I will do that when I get a job," he confided.
And when will you get a job? "Maximum five years," he said.
But Darius's is not a unique case. One such young pilot works as ground staff in a private airline. Others are working in other jobs.
When contacted, the DGCA office in Delhi first refused to entertain us. On the second attempt they explained that the rules were framed by the government and they were just following them. On the third attempt they refused to comment.
Thus the sorry plight of learning pilots continues.
Have you suffered a similar experience? Have you been in a situation where your degree was not recognised? Or you needed to re-qualify for a certificate but were unable to due to cumbersome goverment procedures? Write in with your story to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject 'Me versus the system', and we'll publish the responses right here.
*Name changed on request