2021: A year of ups and downs 2022-02-08 14:06:37 2022-02-08 14:28:47
Pilot George
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2021: A year of ups and downs

08 February 2022

IMG 0336

My flight statistics for 2021. Only ~150 hours of flying throughout the entire year.

2021, What a year!

It was our first year in a post-Brexit world (after the transition period), we had lockdowns of different lengths and severity across the nations in Europe and perhaps top of the list from a pilots perspective was a real lack of flying. It's hard to truly recount 2021; and I don't know about you, but for me everything became a bit of a blur before too long. It saddens me to think that even now as I write this sentence we've not seen the back of COVID; and unfortunately, I don't think we'll see the back of it for some time yet. However, with any luck things will only get better from here onwards.

Over the past few months I've had a variety of different messages from people on different aspects of flying. Some of you have been asking when airlines might recruit again, with others asking why I haven't kept my blog updated. If truth be told, the stress and anxieties of the past few months has meant I'd simply lost all motivation for it. The industry has been on its knees and in many many ways still is! Put simply, our employers are bearing an almighty amount of debt and making some remarkable losses. I say remarkable as these companies were incredibly healthy profit making machines in the years before COVID.

To prove my point look at easyJet over the last 4 years.

easyJet Pre-tax Financial Results
(millions £)
  Profit Loss
2021 1,136
2020 835
2019 427
2018 578

Source: easyJet FY21 ResultseasyJet FY19 Results.

As time goes on you can only continue to experience losses of this scale without having to raise cash. Ways of doing this include re-financing debt, selling assets, making several cost saving measures or seeking funding from shareholders. Every single surviving airline has had to utilise one or more of these methods to stay afloat, easyJet included:

Several airlines wanted to axe staff as the first port of call and a fair few did! Fortunately a strong unionised workforce and a willingness of colleagues to make financial sacrifices for the benefit of their peers saw me remain in employment, albeit part-time. I'm well aware of how incredibly lucky I am to have remained on payroll and the kindness of the more senior first-officers in the base will be something I won't forget.

Anyhow... enough about that. Let's talk a little bit more about 2021.

Brexit & an airline of two halves...

flightdeck coffee

Early mornings require a cup of coffee :-)

Ahh... Brexit... The word that keeps on giving, right?! Well, not quite. 

Brexit has brought with it a whole host of challenges for the aviation sector, which were all unfortunately known about long in advance. A major benefit of the EU for the aviation sector was the advent of the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA). When government ministers pulled us out of the European Union they did not; or perhaps could not, agree upon terms that would include the ECAA in our post-EU world. Thus, when we left the European Union the following happened: 

UK operating licences [are] no longer be valid in the EU. UK-based air operators [must have] their principal place of business [in] an EU member state and be EU majority-owned to continue operating in the EU. All certificates, licences and registrations issued by the CAA on behalf of EASA for both pilots and aircrafts and aircraft parts will also become invalid and [will] need to be validated again in an EU member state.

Source: Institute For Government

Long-story short, many airlines that operate from the UK had to scramble to ensure they could continue to operate. easyJet registered a new EU subsidiary in Austria and moved crew and aircraft over to it. Ryanair has registered a new UK-based subsidiary and likewise for Wizz. These changes essentially segregate the various divisions of the organisations and means UK pilots can no longer fly EU registered aircraft. It's ridiculous really, as it's the exact same plane and the exact same type rating. You get the point though. It's a political mess of red tape.

A major item for new wannabe pilots is the reduction in work opportunities too. A Brit can now only really work for a UK airline unless they somehow have the right to work in the EU or can find a work visa off the back of a job application. You would also require a EU-based EASA licence to work in the EU too. I live in hope that one day the politicians of the world will see the sense of returning the UK to the ECAA, but until then it's a world of ridiculous hoop jumping. Prime example, if I were to want to switch my licence (which is now considered UK only) to an EASA one, some authorities would require me to retake all ATPL exams. That's absolutely bonkers, especially given my licence was issued by EASA to begin with. Hey ho!

2021 balpa covid

Airline pilots during Travel Day of Action (June 2021)

The UK leaving the EU also afforded it a lot of extra political control on things like health and borders. Depending on your allegiance here you could say this was a good thing given the rapid rate of vaccinating people in the country throughout 2021; however, from my own rather bias perspective towards aviation, the British government placed incredible travel restrictions on its citizens throughout 2021. It never went so far as to outright ban travel, but it tried its damn hardest with a set of travel corridors, before then re-incarnating that with a red, amber and green list. Mr Grant Shapps complicated things further with the media named "Amber Plus" list - remember that?! - before finally dropping things (after industry-wide pressure) in time for the Summer holiday season. This was a lifeline of sorts as British airlines could then fly holiday makers abroad for their long-wanted break. 

What was particularly upsetting or anxiety inducing during all of this was the simple fact that lesser travel restrictions in the EU saw business boom there. Our EU subsidiary had packed aircraft and was near-enough business as normal. Whereas, testing rules in the UK saw our aircraft fly with considerably less passengers. Fortunately, we had furlough during all of this. Furlough was something I could have never expected a conservative government to introduce, but it really did keep thousands of pilots and cabin crew in employment throughout the vast majority of the year. I only flew once or twice a month, with the exception of the summer months, and so furlough went a long way to saving my job. I can pretty much guarantee I'd be on the hunt for a job had the government not continued to extend that scheme for as long as they did.

Towards the end of the summer some airlines in the EU that had previously laid off employees were once again hungry for growth as demand for inter-EU travel returned at scale. To my surprise this saw some airlines open their recruitment websites up for expression of interest in new jobs in the company. I hadn't expected to see this so soon, but alas sadly the UK's continued insistence on testing kept its own aviation sector on a tight-leash. 

A short-lived glimmer of hope...

Towards the end of 2021 we started to see some positive news come from the government and its health advisors. The vaccine rollout across the UK and Europe looked to be having a real impact on the spread of the Delta and Delta Plus variants of COVID meaning that the strict travel restrictions were being adjusted. The requirement for pre-departure tests was removed, and the expensive Day 2 and Day 8 tests were replaced by the need for a single Lateral Flow test instead. Hoorah!! Travel was becoming more accessible. Airlines were reporting that bookings were on the up and that consumer confidence showed some signs of returning. Our flying schedules started to get a little busier but airlines were still hesitant to pick up flying over the Winter period.

The adjustment of testing saw airline executives at all airlines remain optimistic about future prospects. The vaccine was working. 2022 may (finally) be a return to the levels of flying saw in 2019. My airline started to offer pilots a return to their full-time contracts (if they wanted them) from December onwards in order to ensure we had the correct crewing number of crew for the up and coming summer season. I got my offer through the door for February 2021. I was overjoyed. Nearly 2 full years of working two jobs and I could finally see the end of the tunnel and a return to full-time job doing what I love. I signed the contract and sat patiently hoping things couldn't get much worse that they'd been to date.

Enter Omicron...

Argggggg!!!! I remember being so frustrated the day I switched on the TV to see the announcement a new variant had been detected. No matter which industry you work in, be it retail, hospitality etc, the continuous uncertainties of the start-stop economy throughout 2020 and 2021 become more and more frustrating. 

As pilots, my peers and I had conversations in work around what the governments response might be. We had one government minister saying they had no intention to do anything differently and then on the other hand another minister saying something different. It wasn't long though before the country was closed for business once again. Or at least from a travelling perspective. The government imposed restrictions on all travellers entering the UK, irrespective of vaccination status. Passenger numbers on the flights I did have once again dwindled due to the complexities of not only our own testing process, but those of foreign nations too. France completely closed to British travellers (including those only transiting through the country) and hopes of winter ski holidays were up in the air. 

By now you can probably tell from the continuous ups and downs of this very long blog post that the past 2 years have been nothing short of anxiety and stress inducing. It's been a rollercoaster with no signs of stopping. While I may have remained on payroll, there was always a niggle in the back of my mind questioning for how much longer. The amount of passengers we were taking to some destinations was just not sustainable. I kept those fingers crossed though! 

Some positive bits of 2021...

While things looked bleak at the end of 2021, there were some real positive signs that airlines had some level of confidence again. 


Airlines had started to open the taps on their recruitment processes. In the UK that included Jet2, Ryanair, Wizz and easyJet. Several friends and peers to whom I had trained with back at CTC/L3 and that sadly lost their jobs, had finally begun to find employment again. I can't begin to imagine what it must have felt like for them over the past two years, but it's been really refreshing to see beaming smiles on social media as they take back to the controls of jets again for their day jobs.

Cadet Entrants

At the start of the pandemic there were obviously hundreds of pilots mid way through training. For those guys/girls it must have been nerve-wracking to not necessarily know when jobs might arise once again. It was bad enough for me having to hunt for a job and that was when opportunities were at least advertised. 

In the case of easyJet, a lot of their MPL/ATPL cadets ended up in a holding pool. The airline had agreed with the union that they would not call upon new entrant pilots until all existing crew were back on their old contract, or were at least offered it. easyJet began offering pilots a return to their old contract with start dates between December and April. Some pilots elected to remain on the contract they were on which naturally created space for First Officers to become Captains and therefore cadets in the hold pool to join as Second Officers. easyJet began issuing type rating dates to cadets at the tail end of 2021 with their first line flights expected around the end of March/start of April onwards. I know of a few who are mid-type rating now, and I can't wait to see how they feel after their first day flying the real thing! I still remember that feeling now!

Ryanair had also continued to hire new entrant cadet pilots, as it had done throughout the pandemic. 

Some positive bits of 2022 (so far)...

Re-opening of Cadet Schemes

In late January, easyJet re-opened its Generation easyJet pilot training program with CAE. This is great news for those who were hoping to become a pilot and (hopefully) provides an indication as to the confidence airlines have of things returning to normal over the coming few years. If you were to train now, you'd likely become a pilot on the line in 2024.

Removal of UK Testing 

In January the government elected to provide what the travel industry had been asking for all along: pragmatism. From early February the government removed the requirement for any tests for all arrivals to and departures from the UK. Therefore, as long as you have had at least two full vaccination shots you're in effect able to travel just as you did before. This would save hundreds of pounds for a typical family of 4. Airlines UK (the body which represents most Airlines in matters like this) welcomed the news. They said it's exactly what is needed for the industry to recover and I personally could not agree more.

Bumper Bookings

Following the government announcement on travel and also the inclusion of 12+ year olds in the travel vaccination passport, bookings have gone through the roof. easyJet, TUI, Ryanair, etc all report really positive bookings for flights and holidays in 2022. Many airlines believe they will now return to levels of flying previously seen in 2019, which from a pilots perspective is excellent. It means that our employers now have faith that things can begin to grow and expand once again. Investment will likely return and; for prospective pilots, it may mean a return to a recruitment positive sector.

What's next?

I returned to full time on the 1st February and am writing this blog post sat in my hotel room, having just completed my annual licence renewal sim. The remaining working weeks of February are pretty busy for me, with flights every day. I've not had a full week of flying like that for ages so it's going to be great to fly more than once in a given week. The passenger numbers on those flights are looking more and more promising too! 

As the weeks go by more and more of my colleagues will return to their old pre-COVID contracts and the operation will begin to feel more normal again. I imagine that this February half-term will be the first time things have seemed crazy-busy in a long time. I'm looking forward to seeing lots of happy faces on board again soon! Kids excited to go on holiday just brings an element of happiness to the air!

I have not long ago ticked over the 1,000 hours mark on the Airbus A320. I'd hope that by the end of the Summer that will be approaching roughly 2,000. I would certainly like to think that flying picks up enough this year that I'd fly more than the 150 hours I flew in 2021 anyhow! My next big milestone will be the unfreezing of the licence which probably won't be until this time next year. You can do that at 1,500 hours but it requires a sim check to have it signed off. Once that's signed off I am then technically eligible (legally) to apply to become a Captain. Of course there's lots more to that and that's quite far out still I imagine, but either way... it's a great feeling to hear aircraft in the skies again and know that world is slowly, but surely, re-opening. 

Until next time,


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