Like many countries, the UK is currently on Government mandated restrictions. Fortunately for us we are based in the southwest of England, where infection rates are relatively low This means that we are currently able to offer airline pilot assessment days and will run APS MCC courses if there is a demand.
Our cadets are in training at a wide range of institutions across Europe; many have resumed training, although of course all are concerned about the current state of the airline industry and the effect on their employment prospects.
Clearly the COVID-19 crisis is going to have a major and long-lasting impact on the airline industry. While the exact nature of the effects are speculative, it is likely that ATOs and airlines who are highly geared and/or do not have either cash reserves or access to finance will cease operations. In the case of airlines, some might benefit from state support.
All this has an immediate effect on commercial pilot employment. While this may prove to be the biggest shock to the industry in living memory, it is not the first, so those who have been around for a while know what to expect. The implications for trainee pilots depend their stage of training.
Newly Started Airline Pilots
Employers are talking with their staff about reduced working. Generally, airlines don’t like to lose pilots in a recession and will offer either part-remunerated or unpaid furlough or sabbaticals. This can be financially challenging, but at least there is a job to go back to if the employer weathers the storm.
The more hours a pilot has, the more employable they are. With a type rating under their belt, especially with a few hundred hours, a pilot is in a fundamentally different category to new graduates from flight schools.
Even if their employer does not survive, pilots will be sought after when the crisis is over and the airlines start ramping up again. And ramp up they will. While they will have eaten into their cash reserves and/or used up available credit, airlines will be keen to grab the more profitable routes vacated by competitors who do not make it through the recession.
In the middle of the crisis, especially if a pilot loses their job, it might seem as if the bottom has dropped out of the world. However, a few years later the crisis will be a blip on a graph, albeit probably the largest blip in living memory.
Those who have graduated from pilot training and are waiting to start are hardest hit. Recruitment has ceased and it is quite possible that any job offers received before the crisis hit fully will not be honoured. It would not be realistic to expect any significant movement in the recruitment market for many months, perhaps not until well into 2021 or later.
However, it will not last forever; there will eventually be jobs available again. The focus of pilots in this category should be on remaining current and motivated. When airlines start looking for pilots again, they will be competing with experienced pilots as well as other low-hour pilots who have graduated in the meantime.
The experienced pilots are likely to be the most competitive recruits. When the employers get around to looking at flight school graduates, to have a chance of success, applicants need to be competitive. It is important to try and maintain flying currently; both in simulators and aircraft.
Recruiters love determination and grit. Pilots in this situation are going to have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to this career!
As well as flying, it’s important to network and seek and give mutual support; motivation is key and need not come entirely from within.
Depending on their stage of training, trainee pilots are in a less perilous position. Their graduation is quite likely to be delayed as the training industry and examiners may be unable to offer the service needed to progress, but in employment terms that may be no bad thing.
It is going to be very hard to predict when the job market will pick up again but is likely to be a long time from now.
The decisions facing trainee pilots are whether to call a temporary halt on their training or whether to reschedule it to delay graduation. There are several factors informing those decisions:
- The personal financial impact of delaying or stopping training.
- The ability of flight schools to offer training.
- Opportunities for other work.
- The stage of training.
In an ideal world, pilots will want to keep flying current and progress at a gentler pace, aiming to graduate shortly after the job market improves. Pilots who have not done their CPL/MEIR and/or APS-MCC and intend to do the former full-time, could consider delaying their training.
Another option might be to do a part-time CPL/MEIR. Normally we do not advise that, as it can drag on for a long time and/or require increased training. However, in these circumstances that might be desirable and would serve to keep the pilot current while delaying graduation.
Those on integrated courses do not have this sort of flexibility. In the last recession, many in these circumstances switched to a modular path to give them more control over their own destiny.
Just Starting Out
This might be a good time to start training. In the last major recession, many people who had been considering a career change for a while found themselves unemployed and seized the opportunity to train, graduating just as the job market picked up. The strategy paid off for many.
The trick is in the timing, and right now we have no real idea of when the job market is likely to pick up again. Our best guess is that it will be a while, so it might be best not to rush through training and end up as another unemployed graduate, rather for new starters to take their time and commit to full-time CPL/MEIR then APS MCC only when there are signs of recruitment again. Those two courses generally take 4-6 months.
In boom times there may be substantial waiting lists for CPL/MEIR courses, especially at the better schools, but waiting lists are not a current feature, so a pilot might be able to pick their moment if they are ready for this stage of training.
We are speaking with each of our cadets on an individual basis to help them make the choices that are right for them, and we are supporting all, including graduates, right through to the other side and eventual employment. If you would like to benefit from this personalised support and are not yet a Wings Alliance cadet, contact us to talk about your needs.
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