New Delhi: The Indian Air Force is short of 363 pilots, a shortage that has lingered on for nearly five years owing to a lack of basic trainers.
As per data, the sanctioned strength of aviators in IAF as on January 1, 2012, was 3,783. However, the force has only 3,420 in its ranks. The constant delays in the procurement of basic trainers are further making it difficult for the force to cover up the shortfall. Overall, the IAF is short of 800 officers.
IAF has been doing without a basic trainer aircraft since its entire fleet of initial trainers HPT-32 was grounded in June 2009, following a series of crashes and over 100 engine failures. It had lost about 11 flying cadets to these aircraft. Three years after the grounding of the fleet, the IAF's selection of Swiss Pilatus aircraft is yet to get approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security.
Presently, IAF is training its rookie pilots on Kiran Mk-II, that used to form the second stage of training for IAF pilots. Thereafter, the pilots are either sent to British-built Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) or MiG-21s. Now, in view of the recent spate of accidents involving MiG-21s, IAF has decided that no more pilots will be trained on these Soviet-vintage jets after 2012.
The procurement of 75 Pilatus aircraft under the $1 billion deal has become "critical" for IAF as it is likely to face shortage of Kirans.
To meet the training requirements of the rookie pilots, the IAF intends to send some of its pilots to Switzerland for training till the delivery of the initial batch of 12 aircraft beginning in 2014.
The Comptroller and Auditor General had also punched holes in the training of the IAF pilots. The report pointed out that the IAF was facing an acute shortage of efficient pilots due to failure in imparting quality training, attributed to the lack of adequate state-of-the art training aircraft with the force.
As per the CAG's findings, 42 per cent of the 276 aircraft accidents reported during 1995-2005 were attributed to human errors.
According to the Parliamentary Panel's report on Defence, "We have issues with AJT. So, our ab initio pilots are going straight from basic to intermediate trainers and then on to the MiG-21 class of aircraft, which was a tremendous jump."