Tartan Air Lines
announced this week its 1Q 04 results, reporting profits up steeply
and declaring a dividend of 43 cents a share, for the first time in
the history of the no-frills airline. "Outsourcing is the key," CEO
Edmund McBargan told analysts during a conference call. Tartan has
always outsourced indirect cost centers such as ticketing, customer
service, information technology, and baggage claim, mostly with
long-time outsourcing partner Pilotless Technology of Mumbai
and Delhi, India.
The change that brought the airline new levels of profit is the
actual outsourcing of piloting tasks. "It happens at the point
where the UAV technology vector intersects the cost of labour
vector," University of Minnesota economist Andy Borowitz explained.
"At that point, you are dumb to hire pilots."
Pranipwal Ramadacharvaryan, a former Indian Air Force MiG-21
pilot, said he liked his job, which pays $3,000 a year. "Firstly,
this plane is much less likely to crash than one of those old,
ill-kept Fishbeds," he told us in perfect English, for which he
credits Pilotless Technology's intensive language and accent
classes. "Secondly, if it does, it's not my problem."
In a nearby classroom, lit by sunlight and caressed by the
fragrances and subtle sounds of the metropolis outside, instructors
taught new hires about the equipment they would soon be operating.
"This is the Futaba digital proportional radio-control
transmitter," intoned instructor Ranjit Singh. "Digital
proportional radio-control transmitter," the students happily
repeat. They will get some hands-on with the unit before joining Mr
Ramadacharvaryan and others on the "production floor."
Union activists have
attacked the outsourcing program. "Och aye," said McBargan. "They
'would' do that. But actually, we employ just as many Americans and
other nationalities as we did. What's more, instead of in-demand
pilots, we source these new hires from among the hard-core
Hard-core unemployed? Of course. McBargan is referring to the
650 actors and actresses who have replaced the flight deck crews on
his airliners. On long, tapered fingers, Tartan's CFO Jake Marley
enumerates the advantages of hiring actors:
"One, it frees up dozens of restaurant positions for people who
can actually pay attention to waiting tables. Two, it's
cost-effective. We're talking will work for food here -- not that
the pilots were that much different. Three, by using actors from
Central Casting we always get pilots that look like pilots. When
our pilots had to be pilots they didn't look anywhere near as
pilot-like as these guys and gals do. How do you feel when you see
a line pilot with a weak chin, or a beer belly, or three chins?
What about some gal who looks like she can't reach the pedals? So,
four, it increases passenger confidence."