Commercial pilots in Bangladesh: Underpaid and undertrained

Once upon a time, it was the norm to offer Bangladeshi children three career choices – doctor, pilot, or engineer. The glamour associated with these occupations has eventually faded, mostly due to the availability of countless other career options. To be at the helm of a mechanical marvel of the modern age, to soar above clouds, to fly to faraway lands, must be a job that pays well, right? So it would seem around the world, but not in Bangladesh. A pilot starts out as a first officer in the cockpit, playing the role of the co-pilot. The average starting salary is $3,000 or Tk250,000 per month. It may seem reasonable, until data for other countries fly in. In Sri Lanka, pilots get paid an average of $10,000 or a Tk833,000, more than triple the pay in Bangladesh. The pay is directly proportional to the skill level and experience.

Low pay, lack of training

A pilot experiences more raises in their payment in their early years than later. But before the subject of remuneration, their training needs to be addressed. Most pilots in Bangladesh come from Bangladesh Air Force after completing their training. There are also students of aviation and aeronautics who go on to become pilots. To become a cockpit crew, a trained candidate has to have a bachelor’s degree, sufficient flying hours, pilot’s licence from CAAB, and then pass necessary exams. Then the airline has the crew trained by aviation institutes to work as a first officer. Over time, the first officer gains sufficient experience and skills to become a full-fledged pilot. But, companies like US-Bangla Airlines or Regent Airlines seldom have their pilots trained at any first-class training institutions like Oxford Aviation Academy or Flying Time Aviation Global. Instead, Bangladeshi airlines have their pilots trained at the Jakarta Aviation Training Centre or similar institutes, which are considered to be a class beneath the former two. Several commercial pilots confided to the Dhaka Tribune that whereas Biman Bangladesh Airlines has its pilots trained from British and American aviation schools, most private airlines in prefer to provide their pilots with sub-standard training.

Airlines look to cut costs (and corners)

The reasoning is very simple. Commercial airline companies want to minimize operation costs to raise profit margins. A second-class training institute might charge anywhere between $38,350-$55,000 to train a pilot. FTA Global, one of the leading schools, charges around double the amount at roughly $90,000. Another pilot lamented the insufficient training, saying: “A lot of pilots can sit in the cockpit, but not everyone can fly across the Atlantic. Training and experience is crucial to fly.” An airline pilot alleged that “US-Bangla does not even provide simple annual leave.” Another veteran pilot said: “US-Bangla and other airlines only look at their profit margins. They disregard training, skills, and other facilities.” However, Kamrul Islam, general manager of US-Bangla Airlines denied the claims, saying: “All pilots join for their own interest. Aviation authorities never force anyone to join with low pay. Besides, these things would have never become an issue if accident (Flight BS-211 crash) did not happen