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Fault Lines in Stripes- AIRCRAFT MAINTENANCE ENGINEERING.

Aviation, for one part, has certainly come a long way. From the days of the Wright Brothers who were
decorated with degraded adjectives for trying to fly to the times of Space tourism, the technology has
evolved drastically. The aviation that was once restricted only to a handful is now accessible to even
the lower income groups. The airline industries have commercialised civil aviation and have expanded
rapidly. This rapid expansion of commercial aviation, no doubt, has created tremendous job
opportunities in the world. And commercial airlines are the hubs for the expansion.
The increase in interests in aviation is only increasing day by day. Movies like TOP GUN, AIRFORCE
ONE, THE RED BARRON, THE AVIATOR etc. have added more colour and glamour to the already
popular jobs like flying and engineering. Currently around 9.9 million people work directly in various
jobs in the aviation sector. The aviation industry supports $2.7 trillion (3.5%) of the world's gross
domestic product (GDP). Aviation in India also has grown exponentially as the number of airlines
operators have grown and so have the passengers travelling. Forecasting a huge growth in passengers
travel in the forthcoming future, airlines have come up with huge expansion plans. The Indian
government also is working on accommodating this traffic by constructing more eco-friendly and low
cost airports. It is enthralling to note that the Indian aviation contributes around 330 billion of Indian
rupees to the GDP.
The various job areas in civil aviation/airlines include Pilot, Cabin crew, Engineering, Customer
Services, Air Traffic Control and ground handling. These are the job opportunities besides the
corporate ones, who are directly involved/associated with the aircraft. However, with increasing
glamour, also has come attached is the ever increasing unemployment rate. While there are very few
positions in the corporate level, which are paid hefty, partly because the corporate level jobs such as
business analysis, financial analysis, project management, strategist, planning, appraisal and even
researching/surveys are mostly outsourced to the various think tanks now plenty in number in India,
the sole intention being Cost reduction; the ground level jobs are difficult to find. In essence,
companies like PWC and E&Y do the thinking and airlines apply them while being charged penny in
comparison to the alternative where airlines would have to compensate for full time job holders. Even
if there are vacancies, the requirements are too harsh to meet for new college graduates. And this
situation is deep rooted in the field of flying, aircraft maintenance engineering and air hosting (cabin
crew). Around 7000 commercial pilot license holders and overwhelming 33000 aircraft maintenance
students/candidates are jobless, according to a data available to public domain. Many of the
commercial pilot license holder are even working as customer executives in various airlines. To boast
about expansion without considering these essential figures is simply trying to avoid the grey areas.
What has led to such a huge number of unemployed pilots and aircraft maintenance professional in
India? In my article, I do not intend to provide perfect solution to this question. I intend to do the
otherwise, of asking questions. The questions that should have been asked to the authoritys
responsible long time back. It is never too late. It is time that open debates regarding this burning
issue be conducted in every level of the educational system, the airlines and the regulator.
Let me discuss some of the issues that I firmly believe have played active or passive catalyst to the
burning issues of unemployment this field is currently facing. Let me be clear that I do not intend to
malign the image of any company or authority through this article.
While the article has focused on theoretical analysis on the issues and their probable solutions, it does
not strictly advocate causality, meaning I do not have all the empirical evidence to every arguments I

make. I have focused on Aircraft Maintenance Engineering, wherein I explore the current scenario,
its grey areas and the probable solutions to it.
Chapter 1: EDUCATION
a) You will earn plenty in this Sector: The Myth of AME Colleges
This is the very first and most lucrative sentence most of the higher secondary graduates get to hear
outside the gates, after they have done with the last paper of class 12. Many of the AME colleges have
evolved themselves into the hub of lies and fabrication like the financial lies of the 2007 global financial
crisis. During the crisis, the prices of the household were inflated, flying well above the ground. Finally,
the housing bursts did happen ruining the lives and earnings amounting to huge numbers. The AME
colleges are in the same path. Inflating the future pay of the job, these colleges woo the innocent
students into admission at the backdrop of huge recession that the aviation sector is yet to recover
from.
Now, you might argue that the final decision of student is what matters. So, the students are
themselves responsible for what decision they make. But, we have to also understand that any
manipulative information provided to a person to the point of affecting his financial decisions is crime
according to Indian Law. We can see many financial brokers breaking this manipulative codes and
raising speculations that have landed themselves behind the bars. So, in effect, the DGCA approved
A.M.E colleges are continuously on the verge of manipulating decisions of students and parents alike
in the name of counselling, despite a strict notice from DGCA to refrain from doing so.
b) The Myth of Educational Quality:
As the time of writing this article, there are 49 A.M.E colleges all over India that have been approved
by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. Excepting a few, maximum A.M.E colleges in India have
very low quality of education, both the theoretical and practical. No, doubt they will be hit hard when
they get to face the real world. The theoretical classes are taught by teachers that dont have the
minimal required concepts or are unable to impart clear concepts to the students. The theoretical
syllabus of A.M.E is less stringent or rigorous to its predecessor, ie, class 12. The practical classes are
just a bunch of vices where in you are required to cut a metal to its accurate size with a metal cutter.
The Aircrafts and Engines, which are possessed by the colleges as part of the requirement to fulfil for
approval, are of minimal use and more of a pride establishing phenomenon.
The basic fault line lies within DGCA as the guardian and regulator of Indian Aviation. Let me explain
my argument here:
1)

Absence of Eligibility Tests/Entrance Test:

This is one of the many reasons why airlines fail or dont prefer A.M.E graduates many of the times. It
is estimated that around 80% of DGCA approved academies fail the EASA exams. If, DGCA conducts
A.M.E entrance examination prior to admitting students to this proficiency course, the colleges get
quality students which can then be well educated. They are then able to exhibit good aviation
maintenance knowledge after they have graduated. The unemployment rate of AME students would
be very little for two reasons:
a)

Part of the explanation lies in the demand and supply theory of macroeconomics. The
Entrance test will filter students and less number are admitted. This will result in less number
of students passing out. The demand of airlines will match the supply of labour force. The

wages of the engineers will be decided by the competitive market forces, which will be
economically just. The airlines dont get to exploit the employees as they are doing at present.
b) The second reason is that the output quality of these students will match the international
students. Good brains with good education would never have to cross the path of
unemployment. They can put up a good bargain on airlines, who are always in search of
situations and occasions to exploit them.
The Indian Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) have been successful in producing quality manpower
through their rigorous and standardised admission and syllabus structure.
2) Ostensive DGCA officers audit of A.M.E colleges: Audit for approval myth:
One of the requirements of DGCA for continued approval of the A.M.E colleges is to
demonstrate that the college is well structured with the required infrastructure of practical
sources of education (avionics and mechanical), facilities and adequately eligible faculty. The
problem, here lies off course in the very intent of the Chief Instructor, the Quality Manager
and the DGCA audit staff. The DGCA officials are more interested in finding out short comes
which then are used to win their part of the deal with the college administration. Some of
these deals in the past have been of financial nature and some have been favours. This fact
has be undeniably evidenced by the stories of thousands of passed outs. The other humorous
fact and that which is again detailed by many students is the way the colleges handle these
audits. The colleges have a unique way of making all the requirements of DGCA audits
available. One DME compass can be seen touring around all of its sister colleges during the
season of audits.
The point I want to make here is that DGCA has not been able to make high quality audits of
the colleges that prepare the future Aircraft Maintenance Engineers. Part of the reason which
is less deniable is Corruption and eroded commitment.
CHAPTER 2 JOB: ANOTHER DREADFUL MYTH
OJT:
After 2.5 years of college education, that was mostly note writing, comes 6 months of paid
training (paid training, where student pays the airline for internship). This happens only in
aviation and that too, in India only. Unlike any other developing country where an AMT
student is paid stipend for his internship an Indian student has to pay typically around 30000
rupees to get into a prominent airline to complete his On Job training, which is one of the
requirement of the course. This training, however does not entail any guarantee of the job for
these already exhausted students. Due to shortage of jobs in this sector (the reason for the
shortage has been discussed in the earlier section of this article), students have no option but
are bound to continue their training by paying additional amounts till a job offer for paid
training comes to them.
UNEMPLOYMENT:
As per the data available to the public domain, around 33000. This could be more considering
the annual number of students passing out from A.M.E colleges with hopes of grabbing high
paying jobs. Unfortunately, the hopes get shattered as they start searching for jobs. In some

cases, in a desperate attempt to land an interview, we have come across many students who
think that sending mails every day to the HR will increase the chances of hiring. What they
dont understand is that there is no demand of technicians at all.
The expansion plans of the existing airlines and exponential growth forecasts of the passenger
traffic, one might infer that job opportunities are abound. However the jobs are very scarce. Why is it
so? I would argue that the supply of labour of economics is at play here. With 6000 students passing
out every year and only an average of 400 being recruited to airlines, there is a clear and concrete
indication that the number of unemployed is only getting increased annually. The desperation to land
a job is so much so that they are willing and more than happy to work even for a mere pay of rupees
3000. Two main factors could be at play here:
1) The huge amount of bank loan the student has taken for completing his course. This loan amounts
to around 3lacs in average. How can you expect to payback with such low pay?
2) The second factor would be the future expectation of becoming an A.M.E and paying it back. This
is not without loopholes. In average around the airlines, it takes around 3 years to become an A.M.E,
which again depends on the requirement. The average pay of aircraft technicians is around 20000
rupees. Now, this average is taken from those employed in airlines and have an average work
experience of 3 years. If we are to consider the trainees in this calculation, the average figure goes
way below even the average pay of daily labourer in a construction company. Hence, it is illogical to
believe that banks will be able to even recover the interests from the loans awarded. The risks of loans
going bad increases which increases the risk premium of the interest the bank charge and hence a
self-fulfilling prophecy. No wonder banks are bound to charge an exhilarating interest rate of 14
percent as educational loans.
When the management of the prominent airlines are asked regarding the logic behind such low pay
to A.M.E/technicians, they proudly answer with a question- How much is Air India paying? It is
surprising to know that even the most profitable airlines have this logical weapon to ward off any
finger pointing to their discriminative and economically unsound payroll systems.
This abundance of labour force is here to stay for a while. Supply has to be balanced with the demand
by cutting off either at the input level, i.e., by standardised method for admission of A.M.E students
through limited intake and entrance based admission or increasing the number of jobs in the airlines
in India. I specify India here for the fact that they have nowhere else to explore for job because of two
reasons:
1) A.M.E is only a certificate course here in India. In most of the other countries A.M.T is awarded
as a degree course. So, if a student faces trouble getting jobs, he can easily explore his options
elsewhere. She can even explore her options of going for further education. Unfortunately,
this is not the case here in India. Around 50% of the A.M.E pass outs have either left the field
to work in irrelevant posts or are in the verge of doing so. The 3 years of technical education
has gone in vain and their dreams of flying high have shattered. However, it is worthwhile to
note that the University Grants Commission has come up with a plan to convert the A.M.E to
degree. While, this is a case still in the planning phase, we have yet to see what effects the act
of UGC will have on the current situation.
2)

While DGCA has been taking lot of baby steps in improving the quality of India Aviation with
the intent of harmonising the Indian Aviation standards with that of the European and
American, it is nowhere found in the implementation that unemployed engineers get jobs

abroad. The word harmonisation and equivalence, as of now, have only remained in paper.
And empirical evidence suggest that it is to stay that way for a while.
It would not be harsh to say that had these students not taken admission in A.M.E colleges,
they would have explored better. There is always an opportunity cost to these wrong
decisions.
In my study, the employees in Air Traffic Control have less trouble finding jobs. This could be attributed
to the fact that only the AAI approved training schools can train students for the course. The fresh
batch of students is inducted after a rigorous entrance exam. Besides, the AAI correctly predicts the
number of personnel required so that the demand is met through its own trainings. Quality and
employment both criteria are fulfilled, hence.

MINIMUM WAGE/INCOME: (The myth of high paying job)


When an industry exploits its labour force to an unreasonable extent by way of low wages or high
workloads, the law of minimum wage is the fundamental economic law that prevents exploitation. By
unreasonable extent I mean, the interns having to pay for internship and trainees/employees in
airlines getting paid as low as rupees 3000 a month. Of Course one may argue, that this policy would
increase the rate of unemployment further, it is still a matter of discussion. I would argue by saying
that we have many such data that clearly support that unemployment rate would not be affected,
rather it would adjust itself to a new equilibrium. Even if the unemployment supposedly increases, we
can accommodate the unemployed to other fields that can make use of the aviation (mechanical and
electronics) skills. The degree conversion will help in doing so. Such high vocational skills then would
not be wasted in sim card stores, call centres or owned business. So, the answer to the question of
minimum wage is obvious if the DGCA intends on saving employees from massive exploitation with
low wages.
What should be the minimum wage/salary?
In India, minimum wages are declared at national, regional, sectoral and occupational or skill level. As
per Section 3 of the Act minimum rates of wages may be fixed at national & state level. Also, Section
3 (3) of the Act specifies that minimum rates of wages may be fixed for different skills and occupations.
Minimum wages in India is declared on daily, hourly, and monthly basis. As per section 3 (b) of the Act
defines that Minimum Wages are as per the piece rate, hour rate, and monthly rate as well.
According to ILO, International labour Organisation, six essential criteria are used for determining the
minimum wage.
Criterion 1: the needs of workers and their families;
Criterion 2: the general level of wages in the country;
Criterion 3: the cost of living and changes therein;
Criterion 4: social security benefits;
Criterion 5: the relative living standards of other social groups; and

Criterion 6: economic factors, including the requirements of economic development, levels of


productivity and the level of employment. This criterion also includes the capacity to pay as indicated
in Starr (1993)
In India, the yardsticks on which minimum wage is revised are: (a) Three consumption units per earner,
(b) Minimum food requirement of 2700 calories per average Indian adult, ( c ) Cloth requirement of
72 yards per annum per family, (d) Rent corresponding to the minimum area provided under the
Government's Industrial Housing Scheme (e) Fuel, lighting and other miscellaneous items of
expenditure to constitute 20 % of the total Minimum Wages (f) Children education, medical
requirement, minimum recreation including festivals/ceremonies and provision for old age, marriage
etc. should further constitute 25% of the total Minimum Wage.
With these standards in consideration, if we calculate the minimum wage, the airlines are paying far
less than what they should pay. With such high work load job structure and low salary, the marginal
product of labour is very high, while the real wage is comparatively very low. This is a matter of debate
and I leave it to the competent authority to fix the numbers. But, it is time the numbers are fixed.
Taking this and other considerations such as the risks to life that arise out of working in the aircraft (
we have several such cases reported recently), the DGCA need to instrument policies for fixing wages
of the engineering personnel. . Of course, the safety nets provided by the SOPs of the airlines, reduce
the risk of getting into a major accident, we cannot distort the fact that even safety nets have holes.
The risk premium also should reflect in the salary. If only the Centre has authority to fix the minimum
wage/income, the DGCA in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour should take appropriate action to
come up with the minimum income or wage structure. This is one of the grey areas, that airliners have
continuously exploited and DGCA should be proactive to come up with innovative policies to fix the
minimum wage.
ABSENCE OF UNIONS IN AIRLINES:
Out of many things, what private owned airlines detest the most is the existence of unions or signs of
indication of the same. They are quick enough to nip it in the bud by having fruitful discussions or
firing an individual that shows the signs of, as they call, activism. Only the flag carrier of India has a
full-fledged establishment of its union, which has been quite successful in bargains with the airline
with regards to minimum pay and other issues. Not that it did not pose threats to the company, but
Unions have been very successful in protecting employees around the world. And many of the private
airlines such as Southwest has a happy relation with its unions.
While many of the private airlines are appalled even by the very word, they reason out saying that
unions reduce the productivity of the airlines and loss of competitiveness such as Air India, but the
oldest LCC in the United States, Southwest Airlines, is the most heavily unionized US airline, and its
salary rates are considered to be at or above average compared to the industry. The low-cost carrier
labour advantage lies in much more flexible work rules that allow cross-utilization of virtually all
employees (except where disallowed by licensing and safety standards). These strategies, used for
several decades by Southwest Airlines to increase both labour and aircraft productivity, have now
been replicated in some respects by virtually every new entrant LCC in every world region. It is
important to understand that lot of other factors are responsible for continuous loss and in
competitiveness of Air India. The very issue altogether can be a different subject of discussion.
Essentially, due to the absence of trade unions and any wage governing act passed in honour of the
Aircraft Maintenance, the airline industry behaves hawkish right from the recruitment of these
employees, exploiting all the way through their career. This is the story of most of the airlines in India.

CONCLUSION:
The Aircraft Maintenance Engineering, once a glamourous and colourful area of aeronautics, has
started turning into abyss of pain, unemployment, exploitation and shattered dreams. Many fault lines
have been developing within it for a while, which if not checked will leave this profession devastated.
The DGCA has to start cleansing the realities of this area of study and improve it so that India can
develop an inventory of quality aircraft professionals, away from the exploitative clutches of the
airlines. Although, DGCA in itself is full with talents and ideas, let me enumerate a few:
1) Good work starts at home. Corruption is well rooted in this institution that regulates aviation
all over India. The other important reason it might want to cleanse itself is the fact that it has
to maintain a better image for the world, which has recently been degraded in the eyes of FAA
and EASA.
2) DGCA has to formulate better teams to audit the Aircraft Maintenance Engineers colleges. It
has to come hard on those hawkish ones who have not been able to meet the requirements
of the CAR. Giving and taking under the table has to stop. Increase the standard of colleges
and we will no doubt produce world class professionals.
3) Make AME a degree course. A.M.E itself is a course of 3 years. With some extra addition to
the existing curriculum and syllabus, it can be converted to a rigorous and international
standard Bachelors Degree. UGC is playing a great role in doing that. UGC has sought
response from the stake holders in the subject. DGCA should lend a helping hand. The
common public and scholars should make contributions from their end.
4) Set Minimum wage:
For all the reasons I have explained above and to discourage exploitation by airlines, set up
policies requiring airlines to be transparent on their employee payrolls. Set minimum wage.
5) Introduce entrance test for admission into DGCA approved A.M.E colleges. I agree that it is a
bitter medicine, no one wants to taste, but it certainly and evidently is the need of the hour.
The DGCA should conduct entrance test and limit the number of students every year, so that
supply of labour is controlled and quality is maintained.
6) Formation of Unions: The Government should enact laws to penalise those private airlines
that hinder the growth of Union that is primarily set up for the sole purpose of protecting the
employees and negotiating. The argument that this would decrease core competency of the
organisation is only a behavioural tendency of detesting change. The Unions should not
misuse their rights and take the companys production as hostage to make the organisation
meet its demand. Both the airlines and Unions should maintain a healthy relation so that the
masters dont get to exploit anyone.
7) If DGCA cannot preserve the field of aircraft maintenance with full integrity and dignity, it is
better to scrap the scheme of DGCA approved AME colleges. This will at least stop the growth
of future unemployment of aircraft maintenance professionals who are entering the colleges
with a hope of bright future. This would direct the flow of the students into better and job
filling propensities.
Through my article, I have sought to put light on the burning issues of Aircraft Maintenance
in Indian Aviation. The message is clear. This field of engineering is in need of serious structural
reforms. DGCA, as the responsible authority has to come up with solutions, involving all the
stake holders. Let us act now. Additional readings: http://www.livemint.com/HomePage/RtRTzAPlxL72QCv6VYaXbL/Mint-Series--8216Trained8217-plane-maintenanceengine.html