Bhanu Choudhrie of Alpha Aviation Group Discusses The Aviation Industry
Alpha Aviation Group is a leading provider of aviation training solutions, specializing in cadet assessment and selection. They work with airlines across the globe, offering a wide range of services including type ratings and flagship ab-initio cadet programs tailored and optimized to the operational needs of its partner airlines. Alpha Aviation Group is a rapidly growing subsidiary of private equity firm C&C Alpha Group.
Alpha Aviation Group is one of the world’s premier providers of airline pilot training. Their founder and director, Bhanu Choudhrie, recently sat down to discuss the future of aviation and pilot training.
Alpha Aviation Group
Alpha Aviation Group was formed about 14 years ago as a result of looking at the demand for pilots around the world. Prior to that Bhanu Choudhrie bought and grew an airline in 2003, Air Deccan, which was the first low budget airline in India. It was through that experience that he saw the true demand for pilots and aviation in the region. Alpha Aviation Group now has a center in the Philippines and the UAE, and over the last 14 years has trained close to 2000 pilots globally from over 40 nationalities.
Too many airplanes are currently sitting on the ground. What’s the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on the industry?
Quite simply, the airline industry needs to adapt to it. Airlines are going to have to reduce the number of flights, relook at their fleet size and overhead when they do start flying again. This is the time to do that, right now, to plan for the future.
Do you think that the aviation sector showed the right type of leadership early enough in the crisis?
Naturally, people complain, but grounding flights is a safeguard against the transmission of the COVID-19 pandemic globally. Many airlines took this unprecedented step early on to stop flying to prevent the spread of the virus. Retrospectively, I think that was a very good move.
How will pilot training change due to COVID-19?
Change is all around us and at Alpha Aviation Group we have started to work with regulators to continue programs for our students and cadets through eLearning strategies. We deliver the classroom syllabus to students wherever they are and we continue to train. This is a temporary solution; however, I think regulators will see the merit of eLearning and allow training providers like ourselves to continue this type of training long term, which we believe will greatly benefit the industry.
Do you think the training industry will face price pressure and how will Alpha Aviation respond to such pressure?
Cost is a major factor for airlines and if you break down that cost, pilots are always going to be a major expense. In the interest of safety, airlines will continue to strive to employ well-trained pilots and pilots who excel. We are seeing how artificial intelligence is playing a major role in the training of pilots and we are working closely with airlines, and with companies who are developing artificial intelligence to augment pilot training in the future. Student pilots are able to utilize their time in a simulator using artificial intelligence, bettering their ability to perform the same tasks at the same time, and saving costs for the airline.
For example, we have experimented with cadet training using common flight routes — our AI analyses their angle of descent, deceleration and acceleration, and how much fuel are they using. This gives us the data as a training provider to help cadets improve quickly and can also help to analyse which cadets are best suited for particular routes, which ultimately benefits the airline in the long term.
How does Alpha Aviation deal with the cost pressures of pilot training?
We have always excelled in providing pilot training services to low-cost carriers. What we’ve also done is hire instructors and ex-pilots, from those airlines that we work with, so that our students fully understand what to expect when they start working with those airlines.
These ex-pilots know what the Standard Operating Procedures are of those airlines. Each low-cost carrier functions differently. VietJet functions differently to PAL Express for instance or in the Middle East, Arabia functions differently to Fly Dubai. So, we have taken those ex-pilots on board, who can then showcase to the cadets what is expected of them when they join the airline.
How does the training program work at Alpha Aviation?
The Multi-Crew Pilot License program began in 2006 and we were one of the pioneers in the world to have introduced this. The traditional way of training was to take your pilot license, do your instrument course, then you get your license. That program took anywhere from 64 to 74 weeks. That was the standard since World War II and no one had looked at it since.
The MPL program allows a new cadet who knows nothing about an aircraft, to gain their pilot license between 18 and 24 months. The course is very condensed however our cadets are not doing any less than what other pilots are doing. The advantage is that they spend more time in a simulator, therefore reducing flying hours from 240 to 70 hours of flight.
The airlines and their planes are very technology-focused, from Airbus, Boeing, and many other manufacturers. Cadets, therefore, qualify as a pilot on a specific aircraft and that is what the Multi-Pilot Licensing offers them.
It looks like Alpha Aviation Group has made a big investment in simulators. Is this correct?
Alpha Aviation Group has invested very heavily in simulators. We have now 11 simulators with a large number of those based in the Philippines. We have recently acquired our Airbus A320 2.0 simulator, which I believe is the first one in Southeast Asia. This gives airlines a huge advantage in training their pilots on this specific aircraft.
So, what made you choose UAE?
When Alpha Aviation Group started out in 2006, we looked at the future of aviation. Where were the future markets? We felt that Asia would see massive development in aviation from Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and from the Philippines. There was also India, which was a big market. In those days we had Air Deccan, so we saw the demand and understood it. We looked at the Middle East and saw progressive countries like UAE, with Emirates as the leader there. At that time, Air Arabia was the first low budget airline starting out, so we partnered with them.
Today, Alpha Aviation in Southeast Asia is always looking for new partners. We specialize in low-budget carriers, so we are not here to compete with the full-fare carriers. We saw a huge opportunity with low-cost carriers where countries are so spread out, and they’ve got many smaller islands where transport between those countries, or within the country, can only be done by flying.
Is there strong enough support to ensure that only highly qualified pilots are upfront?
At Alpha Aviation, our number one priority is safety and the standard of safety. Safety comes from the training of pilots, and where they are being trained. ICAO, the main regulator for aviation, is forcing countries to take a very strong stand against pilots buying training hours. We see some African countries where airlines are not permitted to fly to Europe because of safety concerns. That is a good thing for the industry.
It’s been reported recently that 500,000 pilots will be needed by 2034. How does Alpha Aviation Group plan to be part of it?
That was pre-COVID-19. I think that number will get revised. Keeping in perspective, pilots will retire with new pilots filling their place, so I anticipate the numbers won’t go down dramatically. Post COVID-19 airlines will reevaluate pilot numbers depending on demand no doubt.
I noticed that you are not mentioned on the Alpha Aviation website. Why is this?
Alpha Aviation is very country and region focused and our centers are run by professionals from those regions. Our Philippine team is headed by Filipinos. Our UAE team is headed by UAE nationals and we like them to be the face of our business. They need to be the ones who are at the forefront of the business in their region.
Where do you think the aviation sector in the future will need to improve its leadership?
I think there needs to be more collaboration between governments and airlines. We have seen, during the COVID-19 crisis, airlines are being pulled in one direction, and governments are pulling in another direction. We have seen airlines like KLM, Air France, being supported and built up but we’ve also seen the low-cost carriers suffering. This has to be a coordinated effort — we can’t see the largest airlines saved and the smallest airlines left to suffer. Whatever the program is, the program should be extended to everybody.
What do industry leaders need to focus on with a forward-thinking vision for their business to be positioned for strong growth like you are?
In a time of crisis, it is very important to take calculated risks. There are still opportunities out there, take them, or create them. Take the steps you need to take. Protect people who work for you, because they are the ones who are going to help drive your business in times of recovery and growth, and in times of opportunity. What I say to everyone is, be safe. That’s the most important thing right now.
Learn More about Bhanu Choudhrie: Bhanu Choudhrie shares his path to success and philanthropy
Originally published at http://companyleaders.org on October 1, 2020.