Flying schools taking off into restricted skies
Despite flight restrictions due to security concerns, flying schools are suddenly taking off the ground in Sri Lanka.
At the moment two companies are operating flying training schools in the island and over the last year, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says it got three more applications.
The CAA says the sudden burst of aviation education is due to the growing demand for commercial pilots in the Asian and Middle Eastern region. “Aviation is growing globally and especially in our part of the world. So this means a corresponding demand growth for commercial pilots,” said deputy director (personnel licensing), at the CAA, Susantha de Silva.
But even now, Sri Lanka ’s airspace is restricted. Only the southern air stretch from Katukurunda to Weeravila is open for training and recreation flights. The government calls this the Southern Open Skies.
However, the Civil Aviation Authority says flying training opportunities have improved of late. Recently, the defence authorities removed restrictions on cross country flights to Sigiriya and Anuradhapura.
Over the last year, the number of domestic airports open to flying training, was also increased from just Ratmalana and Katukurunda, to include Koggala and Weeravila.
So at this point, flying training institutions have up to four domestic airports to use for educational purposes.
Pilots in demand
Local entrepreneurs are coming forward to make use of the emerging opportunity. The CAA points out that India and China alone will need 10,000 pilots within the next four years, not to mention demand within Sri Lanka itself.“There is a surge in demand now for pilots in Sri Lanka itself, because a lot of pilots have left to join airlines in other countries,” said de Silva. Already, for this year, 28 pilots at the national carrier, SriLankan Airlines, have handed in their resignations.
Although Sri Lanka has felt a shortage of local commercial pilots, especially for big jets, for the past few years, the country still does not have training facilities for jet aircrafts.“We have not had enough Sri Lankan national pilots for commercial, international flights for the last two or three years. We also don’t have domestic training for pilots on big, jet transport aircraft. The airline has to arrange to provide the training at their cost. So airlines may prefer to hire expats who already have flying experience,” said de Silva.
But local entrepreneurs that have stepped up to make use of the market opportunity say they can meet the demand halfway.
“We can provide commercial pilot licensing (CPL) training. You need a CPL with an instrument rating (IR) and a multi engine rating to be recruited as a Cadet Pilot by an airline anyway.
This is the basic requirement. So if we provide the CPL/IR-multi engine training the rest can be done through training from the airline.
Otherwise people will have to go out of the country to even get their CPL. Since this training is now provided in Sri Lanka they do not have to go overseas anymore,” said Romesh Fernando, the executive director of Skyline Aviation, an aviation training school that started operating in 2006.
Fernando says there are multiple benefits to encouraging aviation training inside the island. “The country will get a lot of income if we are able to offer pilots for airlines in other countries and young people will have a new, very well paying employment opportunity. Also we are able to offer international standard training at a fraction of the cost,” said Fernando. Commercial pilots are already among the highest income earning category in the region.
Skyline says a CPL/IR-multi engine qualification can now be obtained in Sri Lanka within 12-14 months, with savings on studying abroad. Given the growing regional demand for pilots, this is seen as one of the most lucrative investments for young people in Sri Lanka. Already, India is recruiting foreign nationals as pilots to meet the domestic shortage and many Sri Lankan pilots are taking up the Indian opportunity.