COVID‑19 pandemic has impacted demand for air travel, causing airlines to decrease flight and hiring activity. When airline hiring returns to normal, recruiters will be looking for the most qualified candidates.
Before the global pandemic, a severe pilot shortage created one of the hottest job markets for professional pilots. While decreased demand in air travel after March paused hiring at the regional and major airlines, corporate and cargo operations have been more isolated from the disruption.
In some cases, these operations even saw an expansion in hiring. As travel demand returns to pre-COVID levels, a recovery in airline pilot hiring is expected to return by the time pilots training now reach airline minimums.
Rapid Pilot Recovery
Pilot hiring will recover to 70-80% of previous levels in one year or less — with a two to three year recovery back to the previous levels and beyond.
80,000 Airline Pilots are Retiring
Full market recovery will be driven by future pilot retirements, averaging an average of 4,100 new pilots per year. Note that this demand alone exceeds the capabilities of the flight training industry today — the pilot shortage remains.
As airlines around the world remain grounded due to the coronavirus pandemic, we speak to three pilots who have had to leave the industry and take up completely different jobs.
After two decades as a pilot for travel firm Thomas Cook, Christopher Bailey was left unemployed when the company collapsed in September 2019.
However, he wasn’t out of work for long, as a month later Emirates employed him as a pilot of its giant Airbus A380 planes, with a start date of January 2020.
Mr Cook and his family had to quickly relocate from the UK to Dubai.
“We sold everything, the house, the cars, everything – we started a new life out there. It was very exciting and we were loving every minute of it,” says Mr Bailey, 44.
But six weeks into his new job, coronavirus wreaked havoc on the aviation industry, with entire fleets of planes grounded by the lockdowns.
“Before we knew it, I was made redundant for a second time,” says Mr Bailey. “But this time it was obviously more serious because there were no other jobs available.
“We had to return back to the UK, but we had nowhere to go – it was a stressful situation.”
Mr Bailey was let go by Emirates in May of last year. He and his wife had to find their daughter a secondary school back in the UK, and then look for a house nearby.
“We bought a house over the phone from Dubai – we had no other options. We flew back to the UK, and put stuff back in a shipping container in Dubai,” he says.
Mr Bailey applied for jobs as a warehouse operative and delivery driver, but didn’t hear back from any of the companies.
He suggests that it is difficult for a former pilot to get on the bottom rung of the ladder in a different industry, as employers think he or she is overqualified. And he adds that it is equally tough to get a job higher up the ladder because firms are wary that pilots are not interested in doing the job long term.
However, Mr Bailey, who now lives in Lancashire, did finally manage to find new employment. In October of last year he got a job at a Covid-19 testing site run by security company G4S. Just one month later he was promoted to become a manager at the firm.
“I think my transferrable skills have been recognised – attention to detail, managing big picture situations, and overseeing things from afar, as well as being comfortable with very strict rules and procedures while having to manage a team,” he says.
Mr Bailey is one of many pilots around the world who have had to leave the industry since the coronavirus pandemic started. In Europe alone there were some 10,000 unemployed commercial pilots in November, of which 1,600 were in the UK, the British Pilots Association warned.
Stav Nemirovsky was a pilot for Israeli flag carrier El Al for more than four years before flights were grounded in early 2020.
Apart from a number of trips to and from China last May to bring back medical equipment and masks, his work came to a standstill. So in the autumn the 34-year-old decided to leave the industry.
“I was always looking for new challenges, and when this happened it gave me the opportunity to apply for a new job at an IT company,” he says.
Mr Nemirovsky was hired as an engineer by Israeli cyber security firm Guardicore, despite not having any prior IT experience.
“I’m doing on-the-job training at the moment – I’m learning from my peers about the technical side of networks and Guardicore’s cyber security products. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I’m confident I can do it.”
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Mr Nemirovsky believes he has several key skills that helped him to get the job, and which also will help him to do well in his new role.
“During the screening process I was able to cope with new material in a short time, and absorb a lot of new information that I wasn’t really familiar with,” he says.
“Meanwhile, one transferable skill from being in the cockpit is that the work is characterised by standard operating procedures – which means you have to know your job, learn it quickly, and work with a number of different colleagues all of the time.”
Mr Nemirovsky adds that he has no plans to go back to being a pilot when the pandemic finally ends.
Another former pilot who says that the skills he learned in the cockpit helped him with his new job is Waylon Parker, who previously flew for Australia’s Qantas Airways. Since September he has been driving giant trucks at a gold mine in the middle of the Outback.
“Managing your energy, driving a large vehicle, and a lot of the safety processes, are very similar to those that we have in aviation,” says the 41-year-old. “Compared with other people who just joined the company, I clearly have an advantage with my experience.”
While Mr Parker is very grateful for the opportunity, he says it is a lot of hard work and very long hours. In addition, the mining camp in Western Australia’s Pilbara region is hundreds of miles from the nearest small town, which can make it very isolating.
His passion for flying remains, and to keep that going he has a side business in which he and a business partner do aerobatic flights on an ex-military aircraft from the 1970s.
Mr Parker also hopes to be able to return to flying passenger aircraft when the pandemic finally ends. “I will return to commercial flying as soon as I possibly can,” he says.
“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to get into mining and I have met so many amazing lifelong friends at the mine but flying is my passion, and my first love, and I miss it terribly.”
Mr Bailey also hopes to return to being a pilot, but wonders if that might not happen. “I miss flying very much indeed. [But] there is a chance that by the time this is over, we could be considered as having too much skill fade to ever return to flying.