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CFI Ashwani-GondiaThis is the last of the “CFI Feature”, which features the Chief Flying Instructors of four flight schools in India: IGRUA (click), NFTI, Chimes Aviation Academy (click), and GMR-APFT (click) (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. 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 NFTI’s CFI, who retired from the Indian Air Force (IAF) as a Group Captain. He served the Air Force for 28 years, and opted to retire prematurely from the service, in 2007.

His first exposure to aviation was while in school in Chandigarh where his family had a business interest at Chandigarh Air Force base. Many of his father’s friends were Antonov AN-12 pilots, flying the then workhorse of the Indian Air Force’s transport fleet. Some motivated him to join the Indian Air Force.

Group Captain (retd) Ashwani Bhakoo was an instructor, first a Pilot Attack Instructor on Jaguar aircraft from TACDE (Tactics & Air Combat Development Establishment) which is supposedly akin to the Top Gun school. This was one of the first courses run in India in 1986 to develop and train Instructors who could then train the Jaguar Pilots for Combat and Weapon delivery. Later, in 1988, he proceeded for the Qualified Flying training course, after which he  trained pilots on Kiran Mk1& Mk2, HPT 32 and Jaguar aircraft. With more than 6000 flying hours to his credit on the Jaguars, Mig 21s, Kiran, Iskra, HT2, HPT 32, Falcon 900EX (Corporate Jet), Cessna 172 & 152 and the Zen Microlight, Ashwani Bhakoo recently joined NFTI as the Chief Flying Instructor.

1. What, according to you, are the traits that must be exhibited by a flight instructor?

Ashwani: An instructor must exhibit high skill levels, be knowledgeable, accept students with sincerity, be a mentor and a guide, be firm and fair, committed to the improvement and progress of his student, give credit where due and criticize constructively, be consistent in his teaching methods, be open to improving his own skill, knowledge and exposure to new information levels and admit to any errors. An instructor has to be a role model and therefore his demeanour, dress, speech and behaviour must be beyond reproach. He must have good communication skills and should evolve new approaches to teaching taking each student to be unique and therefore requiring an as required approach/technique. An instructor must be very patient and high on emotional intelligence with a willingness to work long hours. Being an instructor is more of a passion to teach and mould individuals who may be raw into glittering diamonds. In my opinion this is not just a job.

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?

Ashwani: While there are individuals who have inherent qualities of a teacher but formal training is a must for becoming an instructor. The people to be chosen to enter this field must be committed and must not do so as a stop gap arrangement. This must be a career in itself and not a stepping stone to for flight hour building. Once the selection is made based on the requirements of the job the selected individual can be trained and moulded into becoming a good instructor.  The selection process is very important and only those with the required skill set must be in this field as they are the ones who mould a new and raw person to become a professional in a profession which demands excellence.

3. What is your take on General Aviation in India?

Ashwani: Having flown in the Corporate sector for more than 6 years, I feel there is a tremendous scope for this sector. Presently, there are very few corporates who have their own aircraft though the number is increasing daily and the business world is realising the potential of being rapidly mobile and fast travel. General aviation in India is at a very nascent stage and presently is limited due to the high taxes at airports, high fuel prices and maintenance costs. The limitation is also due the airfields available and to a certain extent due to the procedural issues in getting permissions. All this is changing and one would hope for this change to be faster.

4. Your opinion on fixed wing flying training in the country?

Ashwani: Flying training in India is in about 40 odd academies, a large number of them operation with just 2-3 aircraft. The infrastructure at these academies leaves much to be desired. As these are commercial ventures there is always a struggle between quality training and financial viability thereby at times leading to safety issues. The instructors at most of these academies are those pilots who are there as a stop gap arrangement and who have very little flying experience or very little exposure to flying other than at similar academies. There are very few instructors, if any, who have had exposure in airlines, corporate aviation or who have international experience. To many the concept of CRM as in a multi crew environment is very alien. It is only the larger academies who can afford to follow the flying training in the true spirit of the syllabus laid down. Flying training in India is at present still adhoc and only focussed on completing the licence requirements and very few, if any, academy address holistic training.

5. If there is something you’d like to change in Indian aviation, what would it be?

Ashwani: I would very much like to follow on Capt Gopinath’s  (Deccan Aviation) dream of making every Indian fly. He focussed on commercial flying but I would like to see many more Indians taking to the skies as pilots in their own aircraft landing in their own backyards. Indian aviation must become less expensive and the procedures need simplification to get sanctions.

Note: All views of the CFI are personal, and do not necessarily reflect those of the flight school / institute / academy.