Adam Penner, operations manager of Harv's Air in Steinbach, about 70 km southeast of Winnipeg, says his organization has been training students from India for nearly 10 years, but demand has been taking off since India announced its open-skies policy in December, 2004.
That led to the expansion of existing airlines, the launching of new ones and the arrival in India of foreign competitors.
"Just about every Indian airline has approximately 20 jets on order. One new airline has ordered 100 jets, and each plane needs about 18 pilots, or nine crews of two each, to allow for holidays," he says.
In 2000, there was one international carrier in India and three domestic ones.
Today, there are seven domestic carriers, and at least five more airlines may commence operations by 2010, says Penner.
The Indian airline industry is expected to generate about 40,000 jobs in the next five years, he says.
But the surge in demand for pilots has created a shortage of instructors in India, who have been lured away from their teaching posts and back to the cockpits.
Harv's Air (HA), Winnipeg Aviation (WA) and the Red River College of Applied Arts, Science and Technology (RRC) are among the Manitoba institutions that are cashing in on this opportunity.
The first two institutions have experienced an influx of Indian students at their flight training schools in St. Andrew's, just outside Winnipeg. Harv's Air also has a school at Steinbach.
Capt. Dan Reeves, owner of Winnipeg Aviation, was at a fuel distributors' meeting in fall 2004 when he discovered that China and India are the biggest aviation fuel buyers in the world. Last year, he got a letter from Manitoba Trade and Investment about a provincial trade mission to India.
"I thought to myself: 'What the heck,' and went to India for the first time last November," explains Reeves. "I met another Winnipeg businessman, Hemant Shah, managing director of Cubex India, who was instrumental in setting up contacts and smoothing the way there. Our seminars in New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Pune were attended by about 50 prospective students and parents each, so we entered into a partnership with Cubex Aviation (CA) last May.
"CA has left the door open for collaboration with RRC as well. HA and WA are working with RRC toward a two-year commercial pilots' diploma program," Reeves adds. "Cubex introduced RRC and WA to the Symbiosis Institute of Management in Pune, and a major collaboration may be in the offing. We got our first Indian student in April, another in May and two more in June."
His Indian students pretty much have jobs waiting for them back home, says Reeves.
Because of the shortage of Indian instructors, Reeves has paid no heed to Indian firms who have asked him to set schools up there.
"We'll expand our staff and aircraft requirements as we get more students at St. Andrew's," he says.
"WA is buying more fuel and spare parts because of the advent of foreign students.The tuition fees are $35,000-37,000, and the students spend while living here, so there is an economic benefit and spinoff for Manitoba."
"Unpredictable fuel price rises render costing the course difficult," Penner says.
"We're always trying to guess what the fuel may cost 18 months from now. We charge $35,000 for a commercial pilot's licence, with multi-engine and instrument rating, today.
"We hired 10 people over the last year, doubling our staff over 18 months. Steinbach is reaping an economic benefit, since the students live there and their parents visit them," he says. "The surge in demand from India has imbued us with the confidence to open up a second location at St. Andrews."
The job placement of HA's Indian graduates has been 100 per cent, says Penner.
Margaret Braid, RRC's vice-president for business development, says: "We're looking at different areas and programs in India. The college hasn't had anything "signed, sealed and delivered" yet, but is considering collaborating with the Amity School of Business, the largest private university in India.
"Part of their studies would be done here and, in the case of the aviation management program, they'd return as pilots or maintenance engineers," Braid adds.
"A year studying the basic courses in India would be followed by a year studying aviation-specific courses here. Flight training may be at St. Andrew's, and classroom work at RRC's downtown campus."
"We are also looking at helping Chennai's Hindustan College of Engineering improve its programs, and also the possibility of their students coming here. Aircraft maintenance can be studied not only at RRC's Stevenson Aviation and Aerospace Training Centre on Saskatchewan Avenue, Winnipeg, but also at its Portage la Prairie facilities."
(Ashoke Dasgupta can be recked at email@example.com)