The “CFI Feature” will feature the Chief Flying Instructors of four flight schools in India: IGRUA (click), NFTI, Chimes Aviation Academy, and GMR-APFT (in no particular order). The first two institutes are managed by CAE, to a larger extent at NFTI due to CAE’s 49% ownership. The last two are academies that are more flexible, offering an exclusive PPL as well. All schools, save Chimes, have some foreign component in them, and all are dominantly Diamond Aircraft (DA-40 and DA-42) operators, except Chimes which operates Cessna 172s and a Piper Seneca IV: the only flying Seneca in the country, as of today. GMR-APFT has diesel engine Diamond DA-40s, and IGRUA will soon be a full-fledged, first of its kind aviation university. NFTI is known for its IndiGo Cadet Pilot Program.
This week, we focus on Chimes Aviation Academy’s CFI, who retired from the Indian Air Force (IAF) as a Wing Commander. He served the Air Force for over 22 years.
His childhood fascination for airplanes made him join the National Defence Academy after class XI as an Air Force cadet, and joined the IAF upon graduation. He has the distinction of being experienced on both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. A helicopter Instructor at the IAF, he also flew and picked up 1000 hours of experience on fixed wing airplanes (HJT-16 “Kiran”, HPT-32 “Depak”), at the forces. This unique combination makes today’s interview special: understanding a pilot, and instructor whose experience has a rare mix of both types of aircraft. With more than 5600 flying hours to his credit, Neel Kamal is now the Chief Flying Instructor at Chimes Aviation Academy, Dhana, Madhya Pradesh.
As the head of flying training at Chimes Aviation Academy, and a rotary and fixed wing pilot, we get to better understand the CFI.
1. You were an instructor at the Air Force. What, according to you, are the traits that must be exhibited by a flight instructor?
Neel Kamal: A flight instructor has to have highest standards of discipline (both in air and on ground), mature behaviour and skill level. A flight instructor also has to have a lot of patience and some knowledge of human psychology. A student pilot sees his instructor as a mentor and his hero. He follows the example set by his instructor, so an Instructor has to lead by the right example. Most of the people see Aviation as a glamorous thing and get attracted to it. In fact aviation requires lot of hard work and strict discipline. This has to be inculcated in the student pilot by the instructor. Taking short cuts does not work in aviation.
2. Are there “natural”, born instructors (those who have a natural flair for teaching), or is it something that can be picked up by anybody?
Neel Kamal: Like any other field, there are some “natural” born flight instructors. You have to have a flair for instructing to be a good flight instructor. A good pilot does not necessarily make a good instructor. However, being a good instructor is not something which cannot be acquired by not so gifted “born” instructors. They just have to put in some extra effort to be a good instructor.
3. The transition to fixed wing: how and why?
Neel Kamal: In Air Force I mainly flew helicopters and I loved it. It gave me an opportunity to be able to see places which I would have never seen in my life otherwise. It also gave me an opportunity to develop my natural flying skills as helicopters normally operate in remote areas with no or minimal of Radio and Navigation aids. I did not want to spoil this wonderful experience once I came out of the Air Force. I also wanted to do something different. Being an Instructor in the Air Force, I also flew fixed wing and had close to 1000 hours. So I decided to fly fixed wing so as to operate from more organised places.
4. Does a rotary wing experience have any implications on fixed wing flying?
Neel Kamal: There are some differences in rotary and fixed wing flying but the basic set of skills required is the same. These set of skills and knowledge gained while flying helicopters surely helps you when you shift to fixed wing flying. To give an example, the knowledge of weather and ability to predict it that you develop while flying helicopters surely helps in assessing the weather even when you fly fixed wing aircraft.
5. Which is easier, and which is more fun?
Neel Kamal: Helicopters are inherently unstable whereas fixed wing aircraft are stable by design. So it is more difficult to learn to fly a helicopter than a fixed wing aircraft. Once you get over the initial learning part both are the same. As regards the fun part, both are fun to fly if you enjoy flying. I had my fun flying helicopters in the Air Force, now I am having fun flying fixed wing.
6. What are the challenges associated with each type of flying?
Neel Kamal: Helicopters normally operate in remote areas due to their ability to land in small spaces where helipads can be made. These remote areas have poor communication and navigation facilities and normally have adverse weather conditions. Operating in these areas is the major challenge in rotary flying. As regards fixed wing aircraft, due to their higher speeds and the limitation of landing on the runway, landing in bad weather or poor visibility conditions posses the biggest challenge.
7. What is your take on General Aviation in India?
Neel Kamal: There is a lot of scope of expanding the general aviation in India. I have met people who want to learn flying and have their own aircraft but are deterred by various factors. The two major deterrents are lack of infrastructure and present rules and regulations. Lack of infrastructure makes it a very expensive and difficult proposition to even park an aircraft at any airport, let alone fly it. Our present rules and regulations are not very user friendly and I believe there are too many of them, which makes it difficult to comprehend them.
8. Your opinion on Fixed wing flying training in the country?
Neel Kamal: The aviation boom in India attracted all kind of people to fixed wing flying training. Like in any other field, some were serious players with good intentions and some came in to cash in on the sudden requirement of additional pilots. With the down turn in aviation sector there has been a shake up. Present policies and dwindling number of students has made it hard for the flying training schools to survive. Today some of the flying training schools in India are imparting better training than those being imparted by a lot of schools abroad. I can say this as I have flown with lot of young people who have done their flying training abroad.
9. If there is something you’d like to change in Indian aviation, what would it be?
Neel Kamal: In India, aviation is treated as something for the elite and rich. This perception is visible in our policies and in the mind set of people joining aviation. This has to change for aviation to grow and flourish in India.
Note: All views of the CFI are personal, and do not necessarily reflect those of the flight school / institute / academy.