BLOG: The impact of COVID-19 on pilot jobs, training and recuitment
Air travel has undoubtably been one of the hardest-hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic. With flight cancellations, grounded fleets and border closures, IATA has estimated that airlines will lose more than $300 billion due to the outbreak.
Across the industry, there have been unparalleled job cuts from major airlines across the globe, while the European Cockpit Association (ECA) has raised concerns that 15-20% of pilot jobs could disappear as a result of the pandemic.
With flights halted, existing pilots who have been put on furlough or made redundant during the current situation have been unable to log the required hours in the cockpit to keep their licenses valid.
Despite this, a recent report from the CAE suggests that the global civil aviation industry will still require 27,000 new pilots by the end of 2021 and more than 260,000 over the coming decade. To meet this demand, the industry cannot afford to allow a mass lapse in the validity of pilot licenses.
The industry needs to adapt to this new COVID-era. Not only will airlines need to be more prudent in how they plan for the future, but they are also unlikely to have the time or resources to train their staff in-house.
Moreover, with flights still being regularly cancelled and numerous planes grounded for the foreseeable future, airlines need to re-think their training strategy in order to ensure that they can meet the demand for a new cohort of pilots.
This strain highlights the need for regulators to make changes to the training process. When restrictions begin to lift, growing consumer demand and the ongoing challenge of age-based retirement and attrition will only continue to drive a resurgence in demand for pilots.
On top of this, trained pilots will require updates and renewals to their licenses.
Embracing the tech transition can offer a solution
From ensuring students have continuity by enabling them to carry on training even amid social distancing measures and restrictions on physical travel to expanding cadet classes sizes, e-learning programmes are revolutionising the training industry and are significantly opening up access to becoming an aviator.
In addition to this, pilots still need log down a total of 1,500 flying hours to receive their ATPL certificate. Despite the current circumstances and restricted number of flights, by adapting to a simulator model, pilots will be able to continue to log hours and complete the relevant annual assessments in order to keep their licenses valid. This will also be crucial for existing pilots placed on furlough or made redundant.
From facial recognition to remote aircraft monitoring, AI technologies have already been widely adopted across the industry. However, when combined with flight simulators, a pilot’s ability can be evaluated based on real-time data.
This assessment can then be used to enhance a pilot’s training programme so that it focuses on areas that need improvement, enabling pilots to improve their skill set at a significantly quicker pace.
In the UK alone, the travel industry accounts for 220,000 jobs and 9% of UK GDP. Ultimately, the aviation industry plays a far too important role to be left sticking to the status quo.
Now as the sector re-builds, this tech transition will only become more important as we strive to ensure that we have enough licensed pilots ready to return to the cockpit when airports, and the skies, reopen.
About the author
Captain Nadhem AlHamad is an A320 pilot with Air Arabia and the general manager of UAE-based Alpha Aviation.