Losing my Pilot Job

Have you lost your job as a pilot due to the corona crisis? People tell you not to worry, things will get better! For sure they will, the question is when?

Established airlines on all continents are ceasing operations, or are making large cuts in manpower. Airlines look at ways to salvage and force crew members to early retirement, or offer employees buyout packages. Colleagues and friends from around the world are taken down from the sky. The junior co-pilot I flew with yesterday performed his last flight, after serving the company for 3 years. My own son’s training as an air cadet is stopped. The list with pilots losing their job is getting longer every day. While I hope to escape the dance this time, I actually lost my pilot job five times myself. From experience, I know how bad this feels.

“I know how bad this feels”

Losing your job as professional pilot has an immediate and severe impact on your personal life. Some of you may even have to move your family out of the country. In the past 30 years of my flying, I have been grounded several times. I chose not to take my family away from their trusted environment. Instead, I opted to stop flying for a couple of months, or in some cases, even years. Yes, every time things got better, and being passionate, I started flying again


Resilience of aviation

Today’s global pandemic is without precedent. There was no commercial flying with the breakout of the Spanish flu in 1918. Nobody can say, from experience, when commercial air travel will reach the same level as it was just before the corona outbreak.

However, what I learned from the past three decades is that the aviation economy takes about 3 months to initiate recovery from tragedies. The whole world was afraid of travelling on a plane in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Three months later, IATA numbers indicate a revival in commercial air travel. The same goes for all other upsets, such as the 2003 SARS pandemic, the 2008 financial crisis, the 2009 swine flu, the 2010 Icelandic ash cloud, and the 2016 terrorist attack on Brussels, my home base airport. In all cases, passenger travel initiated revival after 3 months.

It is my believe that aviation will start to recover about 3 months after a covid-19 vaccine is produced and distributed on a world scale. As soon as the vaccine is available to the majority of the world population, people will tend to forget about this tragedy. I would even go so far as to say that people eagerly want to forget about this economic and social trauma, and put it behind as fast as they can. I trust most state borders will be reopened by then.

“aviation takes about 3 months to start recovery”

It is worth differentiating between the resilience of air passenger demand to short-lived shock events, and the long term impact of global events. While in both cases aviation revives 3 months later, air travel demand in the first case resumes to the same level as prior to the event (see chart 1). In the second case, however, air travel demand is set back on the scale of a couple of years (see chart 2).


When will aviation recover from covid?

Without doubt, this coronavirus belongs to the second group. The impact on the air transport industry is devastating and never seen before. Too many airlines have cut pilot jobs, or have ceased operations altogether. Airline companies remove older and larger aircraft from their fleet, and delay replacement. While there is an increasing demand in cargo flying, business travel is severely impacted. Enterprises in many industries have suffered from major losses and cut their travel budgets. In addition, many of these enterprises have discovered the power of video-meetings, and will consequently cut on unnecessary international travel. IATA’s recent prognosis projects a full recovery in passenger travel by the end of 2023.

But people will always want to go on holidays, to discover beautiful places, and to meet family and friends abroad. This will never change, not by terrorist attacks and not by this devastating virus. Leisure travel will recover to its 2019 level three months after the production and worldwide distribution of an effective vaccine.

That may still not answer your question of when things will get better for yourself. Recovery of air travel demand does not immediately end the current hiring freeze. It may take a longer time for companies to expand their workforce after the 2020 curtailment. If your contract is temporarily suspended and your airline operates leisure flights, I would be optimistic and expect to rejoin the company in 2021 or 2022, depending on the vaccine release and production dates. If your company focuses on business travel, it may take a longer time for the company to return to its previous level of activity.

“there is no reason for giving up your dream to fly”

If you are an air cadet, like my son, I would recommend to continue slow-paced and have your flight training completed by 2023 or 2024. You may have to combine that with another job. Cadet pilots should not worry too much about the massive number of experienced pilots that are currently job seekers. As mentioned, many pilots are forced into early retirement. In combination with natural retirements, this will create job opportunities for you in the near future. The anticipated worldwide high demand for new pilots is still there, it is only paused in the short term.


Things will get better

Covid-19 is the biggest upset ever to shake the aviation industry, but there is no reason for giving up your dream to fly.  Setbacks are part of the aviation economy, you may expect several more to follow during your pilot career.

“the hardest part for passionate professionals that we are”

Yes, things will eventually get better. But right now, many of you have a family to support, or flight training loans to repay. My advice is to re-organize yourself and switch your mind to another job. This is probably the hardest part for passionate professionals that we are. I would even suggest taking a break from aviation, away from travel and tourism. Meet new people in other industries. These new contacts may save your day in the future, should you get hit again by another aviation setback, or in the event you lose your medical certificate. Re-invent yourself! This is an opportunity to discover your other talents, which I am sure you have. Start your own web shop, do wood construction, become a teacher, a field manager, or a shepherd! When I was grounded, I started my own software business. Today, here at CrewLounge AERO, we are 30 full-time employees serving 70K crew members.

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Preparing for the post-COVID19 pilot job market
ECA (European Cockpit Association

Estimating the impact of recent terrorist attacks in Western Europe
IATA (International Air Transport Association)

Updates COVID-19 Financial Impacts
IATA (International Air Transport Association)

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