In November more than 200 delegates from 40 ICAO Member States attended ICAO’s Regional Aviation Training and TRAINAIR PLUS Symposium in New Delhi, India. Chris Long reports.

The Minister for Civil Aviation of India, Ashok Gajapathy Raju opened the ICAO Regional Aviation and TRAINAIR PLUS Symposium in New Delhi, India, and pointed out the challenges presented by a two-speed India. On the one hand it showcases and exploits leading edge technologies, and on the other recognises that a very large number of the population are remote from those technologies. The challenge is in moving ahead with future technologies, and bringing the general population with that advance.

The Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Mr Rajiv Nayan Choubey, illustrated the present scale of the transport systems in India, by indicating that there is a daily tally of 13.5 million passengers on the train network, which is running out of capacity. Taking that figure, and suggesting that just one million of those passengers use commercial aviation instead, suggests that not only would that take some pressure off the rail network, but it would, of itself, create an astonishing theoretical annual demand of well over 350 million aircraft seats. He went on to say that India is presently served with just 70 airports - a long way away from the desired number.

For many the growth potential for commercial aviation in India even exceeds that of China. The sheer size of the Indian middle class population (350 million), who have the means to access unrestricted travel, both domestically and internationally, reveals a huge market - if it can be released. Domestic growth alone is predicted to increase from the 70 million at present to 300 million by 2022. That in turn defines the level of need for skilled people, hence the interest in understanding and adopting best practice in training to support commercial aviation across the board.

At first sight the problem of infrastructure seems insurmountable, but in a draft proposal to improve the situation there may be a way forward. The Government has identified some 450 airstrips which were created during World War Two, and which are not currently exploited. The key here is that, whilst most of them have effectively reverted to green field sites, these sites are owned by the Government, and are therefore potentially available for development into the much-needed regional airports; Choubey believes this can be achieved.

What was particularly striking was the notion that the additional target for the Government is to contain costs of commercial travel to the region of $40 per hour of flight, which would make the aviation option attractive. The new proposal suggests that there would be no tax on airport charges, and that, given that such an infrastructure is a critical part of India’s development, any revenue shortfall could be with addressed by viability gap funding from the Government.

TRAINAIR PLUS

As reported in CAT 3/2015, the aim of the TRAINAIR PLUS programme is to encourage adoption of best practice through the development of training packages by organisations distributed across the world. Diego Rodriguez, TRAINAIR PLUS Programme Manager, ICAO, recognises that the large choice of courses which can be bought through commercial outlets can be confusing. Not only that, but these are not necessarily calibrated, and may not always be of the highest quality. He delights in reporting that the number of approved TRAINAIR PLUS training packages has already grown to 85, and will continue to grow to 100 early in 2016. It is also a fact of life that producing and checking such courses is expensive; this process has to be thorough. For instance, it typically takes up to two years and $500,000 to develop a new SMS course. However, once those courses have been shaped and approved they can be shared across the TRAINAIR community.

Rodriguez went on to address the other major issue in future training. The industry still needs to attract the brightest and best of both Gen X and the millenniums. Even when they join aviation there is a need to retain them. The start point, he suggests, is to measure how well we are presently doing that, and then to find out why there are any shortfalls in initial recruiting, failure rates during training, and retention problems. It needs a collaborative effort between all the stakeholders to gather such information. For instance, it is likely that knowledge of high failure rates spreads quickly through social media, and that then becomes a very dissuasive argument for those contemplating entry. If correct selection was in place, the failure rate should drop and fewer candidates would be put off entry. Only when we have such data and understood it will we be able to design solutions. These should be shaped with a long term perspective in mind - working to be proactive, rather than persisting with the present situation where we are simply reactive to perceived trends.

Networking

No report of this symposium would be complete without recording the networking opportunities. Not only were these available during the regular coffees/meal breaks provided by the event sponsors and hosts - GMR Aviation Academy - but even the Gala Dinner was surpassed by the visit to the Taj Mahal.

All those fortunate enough to go on this day trip were over-awed by the majesty and emotional reaction to this marvel - indisputably one of the Seven Wonders of the World. All the pre-visit research simply does not do it justice - and the sharing of those personal impressions triggered even more interaction between the delegates.

Delhi Delivers

This symposium delivered an insight into the scale of challenges faced by the expansion of commercial aviation in India. Some of the major training issues which face the global aviation community were also addressed, and there was constructive debate about some of the proposed best practices. Importantly, the developing bonds between the delegates gives cause for optimism that such best practices can continue to be developed and shared - the primary purpose of TRAINAIR PLUS.