Shatterred dreams. Kingfisher Airlines frozen pilot recruitments of ASA passed outs

It is very unfortunate what has happenned to the students of American School of Aviation but now it is turning out to be more worse for those already passed out from ASA. On-going slump in Aviation Sector all over the world has forced India’s second largest Domestic carrier Kingfisher Airlines to freeze current and further pilot recruitments and Airline is not honouring the ‘letters of intent’ it issued for the position of co-pilots earlier this year, mostly passed out students from American School of Aviation, according to the Indian media reports.

Young pilots, who received letters of intent from Kingfisher Airlines promising them co-pilot positions once they completed Type Rating training in American School of Aviation say, several of them have successfully completed their course and have got Indian licences, but have not heard from the airline regarding the promised job.

”They have been told that the airline do not require crew. The communication was given to students as and when they completed course and contacted the airline for the promised job,” says a source.

A young pilot who had been issued this letter says, ”The letter was issued to me in April and it clearly stated that I had to bear the course fee at the American School of Aviation, a one & only institute recognized by the airline. Since a job at the end of the course was guaranteed I coughed up USD 72,000 for this training programme. But after I came back, I contacted Kingfisher but I was asked to stay put and that they would get back to me, which has not happened so far.”

When contacted, a Kingfisher spokesperson – appearing hassled – said the airline would comment on the matter after a day. He referred to the statement issued by the airline on Saturday on the salary cut issue that spoke of the turbulence in the aviation industry meriting reduction in the capacity deployed.

‘All these letters say that the airline would absorb us once foreign flight licence is converted into Indian and we are found ‘skilled enough’,” avers a pilot, who too holds an Letter of Intent. He says this ”skilled enough” criteria that airlines could use against them.

The present job crisis seems routed in the massive recruitments that several airlines undertook in the year 2006 when many pilots undertaking training in India were called for placements. However, no airline is undertaking such placement exercises now. The placements in 2006 included a psychometric test and a personal interview following which letters of intent promising a job in the airline were offered. ”Of 107 people who had appeared for these interviews, 45 were selected and I was one of them,” says a pilot who had appeared for Kingfisher interview.

In 2007 when these cadets were training in American School of Aviation, senior officials of the airline visited them there also. American School of Aviation used to run 12 month course named Kingfisher Airlines Programme (KFA) India, offering special discounts to KFA employees, their siblings or children. During the programme, they get free housing facility, which estimated to cost around $3,500.


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Air Hostess Training institutes in India faces tough competition from US Technical Schools

The boom in the India’s aviation sector that begun a few years ago resulted in institutes for training of cabin crew and others wishing to enter the aviation industry had mushroomed all over the country.

Students paid lakhs of rupees as fees for the training they received at these institutes.

But the financial crisis affecting the civil aviation sector in the past few months and whole drama of sacking & than reinstating of 1900 flight attendants by India’s largest private airline have shattered public confidence in the career prospects of cabin crew.

Most of the students are now enrolling themselves to technical schools in US to safeguard their careers. Most of the Technical Schools in US are highly job oriented resources for local as well as foreign students.

In fact, a few months ago, the UB Group that operates Kingfisher Airlines had unveiled an ambitious country-wide plan to open training academy centres for hiring cabin crew in more than 10 cities across India. But on Wednesday, the aviation sector was left shell-shocked.

A Kingfisher Airline official told SecondCity, “The financial mess that the airline industry is in bound to have an adverse affect on the institutes training young people for the hospitality industry including cabin crew. The current scenario is indeed very uncertain and one can only hope that the aviation sector bounces back in due course.” A functionary of the Frankfinn Institute of air-hostess training expressed optimism even in the current bleak scenario.

Aspiring air hostesses have paid anything between Rs 1 to Rs 1.5 lakh for a one-year course. Though Jet has taken back the sacked employees, training authorities have warned students to consider other options. “We have told our students to also look at tourism or hotels. Otherwise, they may have to sit at home for at least the next six months,” one of the air hostess training institute’s spokesman revealed.

Frankfinn training institute, which has many centres in Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and other major cities of North India mainly with more than 15000 students on its roll, has also been feeling the heat of slow down since August 2008.

“In August, 10 of our students were recruited by Kingfisher Airlines. But after that recruitments by domestic carriers were frozen,” said Atin Banerjee, business development manager (East), Frankfinn training institute.

According to an aspiring airhostess at Frankfinn, students can definitely opt for tourism sector. But none of the other sectors match the pay of aviation.

“The students who are aspiring for aviation sector jobs can try when the situation will improve,” said Amrita Shome of Airhostess Academy (AHA) in Calcutta.

Most of the training institutes have already started counselling their students to take up jobs in other sectors.

The forthcoming 2010 Commonwealth Games and the burgeoning number of airports in the country are the reasons why air-crew training institutes do not seem anxious about their students’ future.

Samir Valia, Vice-President, corporate communications, Frankfinn Institute of Airhostess Training, says mergers and acquisitions are good news for the industry in the long term. “The airlines may not be hiring a lot of staff at present, but the worst seems to be over now. As far as long term job prospects goes, the aviation and hospitality industry is definitely on the upward curve,” he says.

The same seems to be the view of Sapna Gupta, founder and director of the Air Hostess Academy (AHA). She says the lean phase is a passing occurrence. “Layoffs are a result of short-term losses. The economic situation should be solved in the next couple of months and the aviation and hospitality sector will witness growth again,” she says.

Kuku S Kumar of TMI Academy, also reiterates that staff reorganisation is good for her students. “The airlines will probably take on new staff now. With the increase in the number of airports in the country and the slated expansion of airlines to foreign shores, there is no need to fear a slump.”

The Students of the various academies are showing a similar attitude. Natasha, a student of Frankfinn seems confident that good students would now get job opportunities faster. “The airlines will probably take fresh recruits now because they work at lower salaries. This works out to be financially viable for them and also gives us better opportunities.”

Natasha has completed four months of the year-long course at Frankfinn. “By the time we finish, they’ll be hiring more people,” she says confidently.

Gaurav Arora, a student of AHA, however, has a more cautious take on the subject. “Since we are witnessing a financial slump at present, there will now be lesser number of opportunities for students who have not done so well in their studies. Only the top few will get jobs easily. This will create problems for weaker students,” he says.

Academies remain optimistic, insisting things can only go upwards from rock-bottom which they believe aviation in India has hit, and would like to believe things will return back to normal in the next 3 to 6 months but it seems very difficult because number of students are dropping out of these institutes and enrolments in Technical schools of US is going up

Open letter to the parents of victimized ASA students

Dear Parents of victimized ASA students:

I have no doubt the sentiment and plea expressed in the letters addressed to the respected Mr. Vayalar Ravi, the Minister sent by many of you represent the collective emotions of those who were caught up in the recent ASA fiasco of horrendous order of magnitude. My heart goes out to you all during this time of enduring hardship.

If I may, I’d like to ask if any one of you ever received a reply from the Minister’s office for coming forward with a relief offer of any kind let alone simply acknowledging the receipt of your letter so far?…….thought so.

While I sincerely hope a meaningful relief is forthcoming from either government, it seems that to happen in this instance is far less likely much to everyone’s disappointment.

While I am firmly convinced what the duo Prince and Reny have done to the students amounts to a criminal fraud and they must be brought to justice, I am also firmly convinced that the recovery of the lost student’s funds should be vigorously pursued by all means by instituting the most formidable consume fraud case in the history of Indian jurisprudence against ASA as well KFA as a plausible accomplice by knowingly or unknowingly in aiding and abetting the Ponzi scheme then run by ASA.

It won’t happen overnight and no one can do it alone. It takes a collective determination and intention (will) to follow through until the objective is achieved. Never mind the government assistance, it’s not coming except in a form of meaningless lip services and dancing and skirting around the issue.

Why not organizing the ASA student family group in India by contacting and enlisting alliances with other families, consumer advocacy groups, legal outreach groups and likes all the while promoting public media attention?

It will succeed eventually as long as the effort continues. Just expecting someone else to do it won’t work because nothing will ever get done in that way. Everyone must get involved and take an active role however small that may be in a collective effort for a common cause. Isn’t that what the great people of India brought down the Great Britain to its knees to forfeit then the colonial territory in the end?

It can be done and to think otherwise you’re vastly underestimating what the collective effort by a group of determined people can achieve. Don’t be daunted by a sheer size of KFA and the Indian lending institutions as the corporate size means little, if anything, in the justice of law. Rise up and press on!

All the best and good luck to you all.

Sincerely,

Echo Yankee, ATP/A&P

ASA could become the subject of a criminal probe led by FBI

ASA students celebrating Reny Kozman's b'day, a file photo.
ASA students celebrating Reny Kozman's b'day, a file photo.

American School of Aviation,  already besought with civil lawsuits, could become the subject of a criminal probe led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II has asked the FBI to take a role into the investigation of the American School of Aviation. Morse said the district attorney’s office needs the FBI’s assistance in performing forensic accounting to discover if crimes were committed by Manpreet “Prince” Singh and his wife Reny Kozman, who co-owned the flight school along with partners in India.

“There are a variety of issues involving potential criminal fraud arising from the situation,” Morse wrote in the letter sent to the FBI.

As a matter of course, the FBI will not confirm if they are involved in a criminal investigation.

The students’ tuition fees were supposed to be kept in a trust account and charged as the students progressed through their flight training. A lawsuit filed by 52 of the students in July alleges that Singh directed the tuition directly into his own accounts. It accuses him of fraud, breach of contract and misrepresentation. Among the allegations made against the school and Singh is that they continued to recruit students despite knowing they could not provide the instruction as promised.

The students are seeking $2.2 million in refunds and punitive damages. The lawsuit was filed with the Merced County Superior Court, but the papers have not been served upon Singh because he hasn’t been located, according to attorney Palvir Shoker, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the students.

A second set of 10 students has filed a similar lawsuit and is seeking $200,000. The lawsuit was filed by attorney Jeffrey Poindexter and claims that the students were directed to a fake ASA Web site where they could ostensibly keep track of how their tuition funds were being deducted. The complaints states: “This accounting system was set up to deceive and mislead the students. As soon as the students would make a tuition payment of $40,000, the defendants would spend all of the money. This allegation is premised upon the fact that the defendants have conceded they owe the refunds, but claim they have no money to pay the refunds…

“By immediately spending the entirety of a student’s tuition, without providing the promised flight training and education, the defendants either purposefully, recklessly or negligently began operating as a sort of ponzi scheme. Each new student’s tuition would go to pay the costs and expense of earlier enrolled students.”

Reny Kozman has previously blamed the school’s financial hardships on partners based in India, who she says stole the school’s money in her email to SecondCity last month.

Mr. Minister, please come forward and do something. UPA Govt. is saved now. part (1)

Since the UPA government has already passed the no confidence motion in Parliament on 22nd July 2008, we hope that our beloved Minister Mr. Vayalar Ravi will come forward to help our sons & daughters which are fighting a lonely war for justice on a foreign soil with very few helping hands. Here is the first Open letter of the series of letters to Mr. Vayalar Ravi from one of the parents whose son is fighting it our all by himself.

Mr. Vayalar Ravi, Minister for overseas affairs
Mr. Vayalar Ravi, Minister for overseas affairs

Respected Mr. Vayalar Ravi,

Let us first introduce ourselves: we are Richard and Juliet Saldanha and our son, Fabian Saldanha, who was enrolled in the American School of Aviation, California where he was clocking flight hours to obtain his private flying license, Engine rating training and a commercial pilot license.

We had paid $40,000 in tuition fees, which was transferred in its entirety to the school at the beginning of the training. With the school shutting down, my child’s future now hangs in the balance.

Fabian has worked very hard in obtaining excellent grades to reach this position in his academic career. After successfully passing his +2 exams with 70% marks from Alva’s Pre-University College, Moodbidri, he finally settled on ASA to pursue his dreams of becoming a pilot one day. But we are sure there are other students like my son who are in a similar situation since ASA closed its doors.

The current plight of the 120 children is very tragic, and concerned school authorities like Mrs. Reny Kozman and the Principal Director Mr Manpreet Singh have all but abandoned their students.

Declaring bankruptcy was the next step in this sorry saga; and while the American courts battle this out, the lives of these 120 children and their future hangs in the balance. For parents like myself, who have worked hard to obtain the sufficient funds in educating our children and seeing their dream fulfilled, this comes as a very hard blow. We have mortgaged our properties and have no sufficient means to transfer Fabian to another school and scrape together another hefty tuition amount.

We implore you, and the concerned authorities to step in and rectify this matter. Maybe the government could help facilitate other aviation schools in the US to absorb these children and allow them to finish their training through a government funded grant. It is only through your networking, support and backing will parents like us be able to find full justice and manage to salvage the hopes and futures of these 120 children.

Yours sincerely,
Richard and Juliet Saldanha
Parents of Fabian Saldanha

Open letter to SABA President Khurshid Khoja, Esquire

In Re: American School of Aviation

Dear Mr.Khoja

I applause and thank you for the SABA’s decision to come to aid for the American School of Aviation students stranded in Atwater. It’s a light at the end of the tunnel with a hope of getting out the quagmire at long last.

Early this year, Silver State Helicopters (SSH) school in Las Vegas closed by filing a Chapter 7. Over 2,500 students lost $70,000 each. They operated 250 helicopters at 40 school locations. If the past similar school closure cases are any indication, the prosecution of the ASA case seems less likely. Your writing to the county DA requesting criminal charges to be brought against the unscrupulous school owner(s) is a step in the right direction.

For the recovery of student fund in absence of any disposable assets likely to be left with ASA, I am of an opinion that only viable means is to name both the Kingfisher Airlines and the student loan lending institutions as co-defendants in the lawsuit. The desire to keep their public image from tarnished is likely to make them think twice to get entangled in a lawsuit and it would bring them swiftly to the settlement table.

While no lawyers are miracle workers, I trust that one of your able member lawyers with legal expertise in this venue and judicial connection in India could rise to an occasion to build a strong enough case to achieve success in recovering the lost student’s fund.

In July 2007, the Bureau for Private Post secondary and Vocational Education (BPPVE) was abolished much to the public dismay leaving the consumers statewide unprotected. While your organization’s bifurcated effort in civil and criminal front continues, it would serve a great public interest at this juncture if you could take one step further to push for a timely legislative enactment for the Student Tuition Recovery Fund (STRF) to safeguard student’s tuition from school failures and closures in the future. Real social justice then becomes apparent not as something that will be but something that is. I wish you success in this endeavor. Until such time, sir I am.

Respectfully submitted.

Echo Yankee
ATP/A&P

South Asian Bar Association of Northern California to help ASA students

It seems that help is on its way for the students of the American School of Aviation,  South Asian Bar Association of Northern California (SABA) has offered assistance to the more than 100 stranded students for assessing their legal options to get justice and remain within the U.S.

A press release issued by the South Asian Bar Association confirms the report. “These students have been placed in a really tough situation. They did not receive the opportunity to complete their coursework as promised and have not been assured that refunds will be provided. Many of them do not have permanent housing and some of them are still attempting to transfer to other schools,” said Shaamini Babu, Co-chair of SABA’s Pro Bono Committee, who is working with Ashok Sinha, consul for community affairs at the Consulate General of India in San Francisco, to ascertain the facts of the case and the legal issues that the students are facing.

Fortunately, the Department of Homeland Security has expressed its wish not to pressurize the students to leave the country upon the expiration of their current visas.

SABA President Khurshid Khoja has asked Merced County District Attorney to bring criminal charges against the owners of the American School of Aviation, a critical move, which will help students obtain U.S. visas for them to remain in the country indefinitely and receive work authorization.

SABA also provided the students with referrals to attorneys in the area willing to take on the civil matter on a contingency basis.

“Our Pro Bono Committee normally doesn’t refer clients to counsel willing to work pro bono unless the public interest is directly implicated. However, in this situation we were able to find SABA members willing to work on contingency because this potential breach of contract renewed our community’s outrage over the exploitation of immigrant South Asians by swindlers, traffickers, and other opportunists who prey on the vulnerable,” said Vid Prabhakaran, SABA Vice President-External.

In this type of contingency arrangement, the attorney receives a percentage of the recovery, only if a recovery is made. In the event that the attorney is unsuccessful, he suffers the costs of bringing the legal action including the costs of filing fees, expert fees, investigation fees, and the attorney’s own legal fees.

Students can contact SABA members and discuss their further plans on below given contact details:

General inquiries about ASA cases should be directed to SABA President Khurshid Khoja via e-mail or mail to:

South Asian Bar Association of Northern California
c/o The Chugh Firm
4800 Great America Parkway, Ste 310
Santa Clara, CA 95054