IAF may review its promotion policy to allow group captains to become air commodores faster

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New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) may review its promotion policy to allow group captains to become air commodores faster as part of an overarching plan to improve their career prospects and keep pilots from quitting service, two senior government officials said on condition of anonymity.

A troubling trend of pilots leaving the air force during the last two years to join private airlines that offer better salary and perquisites has rung the alarms bells in the IAF, compelling it to take stock of the problem and devise ways to retain talent.

More than 200 middle-rung IAF pilots took premature retirement, or what the air force calls premature separation from service (PSS), during 2018-19, said the first official cited above. He stressed that the figure was far higher than acceptable. The IAF received applications from more than 300 officers for early retirement over the last two years, of whom 200 were released.

“The number of officers who were allowed to leave is too high. According to our assessment, if more than 60 pilots quit every year, it can cause an imbalance in our functioning. We cannot allow the numbers to go beyond what is acceptable,” said the second official cited above said.

The IAF is handling the pilot retention problem by adopting a multi-pronged approach that includes reviewing the promotion policy to remove stagnation, tightening the eligibility criteria for granting PSS, giving officers greater clarity about career growth and fine-tuning the human resource policy to address issues related to postings, tenure and family requirements.

Hindustan Times reported on February 15 that the IAF was working to tighten rules to prevent its pilots from leaving service and a raft of measures were being implemented to arrest the trend of officers quitting the air force to take up well-paying flying jobs outside.

The promotion policy is being reviewed to remove stagnation at a critical career juncture – the group captain level (equivalent to a colonel in the army).

“It can take up to 13 years for a group captain to be promoted as an air commodore (equivalent to a brigadier). We are examining the possibility of bringing it down to around 10 years to address the aspirations of officers,” the first official said.

A middle-rung IAF pilot earning up to ₹2 lakh a month could land up a salary that is four times higher as captain in a private airlines. Most pilots quit service after being overlooked for promotion and completing 20 years of service, which entitles them to a pension.

“We are not talking about a blanket ban on pilots leaving the air force. But some restrictions are being imposed so that the IAF does not suffer. Simultaneously, we are adopting a proactive approach to address issues that are bothering people,” the first official said.

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