The Transportation Ministry is looking within its own ranks to source talent to overcome the shortage of pilots in the country’s fast-expanding aviation industry.
The effort to test whether the nation’s civil servants would be put to better use at 30,000 feet comes as the government grapples with the twin problems of a glut of bureaucrats — about 4.6 million — and an acute shortage of pilots and pilot instructors.
A large banner reading, “The Transportation Ministry offers civil servants in the ministry opportunities to be trained as pilots,” is on display in front of the ministry’s human resources department in Gambir, Central Jakarta.
Bambang S. Ervan, a spokesman for the ministry, confirmed the message was correct, saying that it was the first time the idea had been tried.
“[Those who enlist] will be trained at one of our flying schools and, on completion, will obtain the most basic pilot license,” Bambang said.
To obtain an entry-level license, called a private pilot license, trainees must complete 60 flying hours and more than 300 ground-training hours. After graduation, they can fly non-commercial aircraft.
The ministry has two flying schools, one in Curug, Banten, and a second in Banyuwangi, East Java, producing 150 pilot graduates a year between them, Bambang said.
The ministry’s program is scheduled to operate within 18 months.
Bambang said the program was made to fill the gap in Indonesia’s airline industry, which includes 16 scheduled commercial airline operators.
“The aim is to train flight instructors rather than to produce commercial pilots,” Bambang said.
The Transportation Ministry launched the program because it is not allowed to recruit more civil servants under the ongoing recruitment moratorium that has been imposed across most national government agencies as a cost-saving measure.
“There are not enough flight instructors in our schools right now, and we cannot recruit any more people. So the viable option is to train our staff,” Bambang said.
“It is possible for the graduates to become commercial pilots depending on their aptitude and the requirements from the respective airlines. But their first duty is to be instructors,” Bambang said.
Aviation analyst Dudi Sudibyo said the government’s program was commendable.
“Anyone can be a pilot, even civil servants, because it depends on whether they can pass all the related aptitude tests,” he added. “I think it is quite innovative for the government to take this approach in addressing [the issue of pilot shortages],” Dudi said.
The rapid expansion of Indonesia’s aviation sector has led to the pilot shortage. According to Dudi, Indonesia needs to produce at least 400 new pilots every year.
Bambang said the recruitment be strictly supervised. “Of course we will not recruit any random person. They will undergo the same rigorous training and procedures as any other pilot trainees,” he said.
Indonesia’s civil service is rife with ill-discipline, including reports of bureaucrats clocking off during working hours and failing drug tests. The country’s aviation industry, meanwhile, faces longstanding security concerns.
The crash of a Lion Air plane into the sea off Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport last month damaged already-weak public confidence in the sector. Investigations into the cause of the crash are ongoing.
Bambang said security was the Transportation Ministry’s chief concern. “With or without this program, security is our number one priority,” he said.
Dudi said a similar approach was taken by professional pilots. “Every pilot wants to perform their job safely. Security is their first, second and third priority,” he said.
But he added that Indonesia’s flying schools lag behind their regional counterparts in regard to facilities and the quality of the curriculum.
“For example, our schools still use planes with an analog controller, while most of the cockpits in commercial planes are now digital,” he said.
“It means that a graduate from an Indonesian school will need further training to fly a commercial plane.”
National airline Garuda Indonesia is among those carriers seeking to stave off staffing shortages.
“Garuda Indonesia had recruited 10 flight instructors to expedite our training program and as an anticipation of delays in our training timetable due to the lack of instructors,” the airline said in its annual report.
Garuda employs 842 pilots and copilots as of 2012, and has a further 239 candidates in its training program.
The archipelago’s 16 scheduled airline operators employ around 8,000 pilots and copilots, while approximately 600 foreign pilots have been drafted in, according to data from the Transportation Ministry.
Efforts by airlines to recruit foreign pilots have been hampered by objections among local pilots to differences in pay.