• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
BW Businessworld

Air India Will Need More Than 6,500 Pilots To Fly 470 Planes: Report

Air India currently employs approximately 1,600 pilots to operate its 113 aircraft fleet and there have been reports of ultra-long-haul flights being cancelled or delayed due to a lack of crew

Photo Credit :


Air India will need more than 6,500 pilots to operate 470 aircraft supplied by Airbus and Boeing in the coming years, according to aviation sources. 

In order to expand its fleet and operations, the airline has placed orders for 840 aircraft, with an option to purchase an additional 370 planes. This is one of the largest aircraft orders ever placed by an airline.

Air India currently employs approximately 1,600 pilots to operate its 113 aircraft fleet and there have been reports of ultra-long-haul flights being cancelled or delayed due to a lack of crew.

The airline's two subsidiaries, Air India Express and AirAsia India employ approximately 850 pilots to fly their 54 planes, while the joint venture Vistara employs over 600 pilots and has a fleet of 53 aircraft.

To operate the combined fleet of 220 aircraft, Air India, Air India Express, Vistara and AirAsia India employ slightly more than 3,000 pilots.

The most recent Airbus firm order includes 210 A320/A321 Neo/XLR and 40 A350-900/1000 aircraft. Boeing's firm order includes 190 737-MAX, 20 787s and ten 777s.

“Air India is primarily using these 40 A350s for ultra-long-haul routes or flights lasting more than 16 hours. The airline will require 30 pilots per aircraft (15 commanders and 15 first officers), for a total of 1,200 pilots for A350s alone,” according to a source.

According to the source, one Boeing 777 requires 26 pilots. If the airline takes on 10 such planes, it will need 260 pilots, whereas 20 Boeing 787s will require 400 pilots, given that each such plane requires 20 pilots — 10 commanders and 10 first officers.

According to the sources, the induction of 30 wide-body Boeing planes will require a total of 660 pilots.

Each narrow-body plane, whether Airbus A320 family or Boeing 737 Max, requires 12 pilots on average, implying that 400 such planes in the fleet will require at least 4,800 pilots to operate.

On Thursday, Air India Chief Commercial Officer Nipun Agarwal in a Linkedin post said, “the order comprises 470 firm aircraft, 370 options and purchase rights to be procured from Airbus and Boeing over the next decade.”

According to Pankaj Shrivastava, former Commercial Director of Air India, enough opportunities must be created for Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL) holders to get type rated.

Type ratings are specialised training that allows a pilot to operate a specific type of aircraft.

“Air India would undoubtedly have a plan in place. They would not buy these planes just to land them,” he said.

These planes will be introduced gradually, rather than all at once. During that time, Shrivastava expressed confidence that Boeing, Airbus and Air India would be able to create a large enough pool of pilots by putting in place the necessary number of flight simulators and pilot training.

Air India announced earlier this year plans to establish a training academy, a new initiative for the Tata Group.

The academy, led by former AirAsia India CEO Sunil Bhaskaran, will compete with the biggest and best anywhere in the world, according to Air India Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Campbell Wilson.

“Thousands of home-grown pilots, engineers, cabin crew, airport managers and other function specialists will be needed in the coming years by the ambitious new Air India and the aviation industry as a whole. We have a need and a duty to develop this talent as India's flagship airline,” he had previously said.