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Last Updated: Monday, 19 June 2006, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Indian air force 'lacks planes'
By Nagendar Sharma
BBC News, Delhi

Indian Air Force Jaguar fighter aircraft
Only half the fleet is available at any given time
Nearly 20% of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots are doing desk jobs because of a shortage of planes, the BBC has learnt.

Classified documents seen by the BBC show that in all about a third of the IAF's 2,500 pilots have been assigned ground and administrative duties.

Of these, 450 fit and trained pilots simply lack planes, the documents say.

Growing numbers of IAF pilots have been refused permission to quit in recent months. The Indian Air Force had "no comment" on the BBC's findings.

The IAF has about 790 aircraft in total, including 340 fighter planes.

Only half the fleet is available at any given time while the rest are being serviced, the documents show.

By 2010 the air forces' transport fleet will be reduced by nearly 40%.

The IAF, which currently has 34 squadrons, plans to reduce that number to 28 by 2013.

Poor utilisation

Some of the pilots put on ground and administrative jobs by the force spoke to the BBC.

They said the jobs they had been given contradicted claims by senior officials that pilots who wanted to leave the IAF could not do so as it would create a shortage of pilots.

"Whatever the authorities might say, the fact is that the air force is overstaffed in terms of pilots," one of the pilots, who has served in the IAF for 15 years, told the BBC.

This was despite the IAF spending millions of rupees on pilot training, he said.

Another serving pilot with more than a decade of service said: "In every air force station, you would find fully competent and medically fit pilots posted to various ground administrative jobs.

"The average utilisation rate of pilots in terms of flying hours per month is very low, as much as five to six hours a month," he added.

Earlier this year, the chief of the Indian Air Force told the BBC he was aware that some pilots wanted to leave his force, although he said the numbers were much lower than reported.

Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi put it down to India's booming civil aviation industry and the lucrative salaries being offered by commercial airlines.

The air chief marshal said he did not begrudge the high salaries being offered to his pilots by private airlines. But he said he could not release pilots unless they were not required by the IAF.

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