With an industry in chaos, how are pilots coping with life on the ground?

Just three short months ago our industry looked completely different. Aircraft manufacturer’s order books burst at the seams with endless orders for new jet aircraft to meet the insatiable demand of the flying public. These aircraft needed pilots to fly them and the supposed worldwide pilot shortage was at the forefront of aviation executives minds the world over. A study by Boeing in 2019 found 800,000 new pilots would be needed over the next 20 years. This equalled around 800 pilots leaving flight school every week for the foreseeable future.

COVID-19

Pilot walks through Toronto Pearson Airport with face mask. REUTERS

In March of this year, everything changed. In the wake of COVID-19, countless airlines have laid off pilots or put them on indefinite unpaid leave. British Airways announced a 50% pay cut for its pilots and put 36000 staff on unpaid leave. EasyJet has asked all pilots to take 3 months unpaid leave and most companies have followed suit. Almost all commercial airline pilots in the world now face an uncertain future. So in this unprecedented time, how will pilots spend their time?

Keeping up skills

Flying, like anything, takes practice and modern aircraft are hugely complex machines. Pilots are consummate professionals and their priority will be spending time painfully sifting through manuals, maintaining their knowledge in the hope that they will be back in the air shortly. In an unusual step civil aviation authorities the world over have approved ‘virtual’ check rides done by video call with an examiner so that pilot’s licenses remain valid, whilst simulators remain out of service.

Home built simulator – aopa.org

Although flying is a very specific skill, many pilots are finding transferable skills in different industries. There are stories in the UK of long-haul Captains driving vans for their local supermarkets. Others are delivering pizza to hungry self-isolators and many more are providing invaluable help by volunteering for the National Health Service.

Positive signs

There are reasons for hope. Signs of a rise in traffic in China and the slow down in new COVID-19 cases there are reasons to remain positive. All pilots now have time to catch up on some rest, and most importantly, spend some quality time with their families.

Pilots around the world will be ready to take to the skies once again just as soon as they can.

The question we are all asking is when?

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