It's certainly been a while! I hope you're doing okay and that you and your family have good health most importantly!
I popped on here the other day to see when I last wrote a blog and was surprised it was as long ago as September last year! If you're wondering why I've been pretty quiet, well... that'd be as there's not been a great deal to talk about if truth be told. As I write this it saddens me that we're nearly a full year on from Britain's first lockdown and we're still no closer to a bright light at the end of the seemingly lengthy tunnel that is aviations enforced grounding.
If you read my posts in the latter part of last year you'll have learned that my colleagues and I went through the whole nerve-wracking ordeal that was a redundancy negotiation process. If you didn't read it but want to, here's the link to it. I still to this day consider myself incredibly lucky to be in the position that I am, remaining on payroll. I've done very little flying in the last few months, but thanks to the union, our pilot workforce making a sacrifice and our government for providing and once again extending the furlough scheme, I can still retain the job title of Airline Pilot. I have my fingers firmly crossed that this summer brings some form of profitable flying, otherwise who knows if I'll retain that job title beyond it.
Photo of aircraft in their grounded state, engine covers included.
If you're curious as to just how much flying has been going on, well it might as well be zero. Since November I have only flown the Airbus twice. Both occasions were domestic flights to Belfast. Outbound international flights are practically non-existent for us Brits given the government have made it illegal without you having a good reason. I've been in the simulator more than the real thing over the past 6 months or so and it's no doubt a similar picture for most pilots, in most airlines, across the UK.
All of this said, I'm very lucky to have had even those two flights as some of my colleagues and friends have even less than that. When I'm not flying I'm put on furlough-leave. Now that I'm part-time (following union negotiations) the income from the airline no longer meets my financial commitments as far as my training loans and living costs are concerned and I've had to find a second job as a result.
My new type rating is on the IKEA Desk.
For anybody considering becoming a pilot I'd like to hope that this COVID situation has highlighted the importance of having experience in some other field, or at least qualifications in something else you may enjoy. I simply cannot emphasise this enough. The aviation sector will of course rebound at some point so it is only natural that people might consider joining it, however please please please take a long hard think about what else you may enjoy as a career and maybe look towards studying for that first. This is primarily aimed at those straight out of sixth form/college embarking on a training course. Chances are if you're already a working professional you'll have some experience in another field already.
For context, I went from a comfortable mid-£40k a year down to a figure just a small amount over £20k. Yep...just over £20k to be an airline pilot, part-time albeit, but the banks won't care whether you're part-time or not. You still borrowed the money from them and they'll still want repaying at the same rate, which in my case is now to the tune of about £1000 per month for the next 7 years of my life. It doesn't take that long to figure out that with repayments that high and a salary as low (by comparison to what it was) that there won't be much left to get by.
The redundancy discussions last year caused me great stress for this very reason. What on earth was I going to do to make ends meet? Who would even be hiring during this down turn? Retail would be closed, hospitality too (both sources of jobs in the times of a strong economy), so where could I possibly work? Fortunately my I.T. degree and my past experience working in the I.T. sector, which thankfully remains relatively unaffected by COVID, saved my bacon and allowed me to keep the bank happy. Not only that of course, I could retain my independence and not need sell all my furnishings etc; and move back in to my parents home for however long.
Now as I've already said COVID won't be around forever and the industry will pick-up in some shape or form down the line, but what's to say that some other curveball won't hinder aviations recovery. What's to say some other big event might impact it in future too? Recessions being a key one for instance. In the medium term it's likely to be ever changing travel policies of various governments causing restrictions to our previous travel desires. A lot of my friends or colleagues whether still employed by airlines or not are now working for delivery firms. While these jobs will allow you to earn a living you might not enjoy these types of roles longer-term. This is not to say these jobs are not well-respected and I am not knocking them - before someone emails me to tell me otherwise - I am simply saying you might not enjoy them as much as you may do a role in a sector you also enjoy. For me, my second job not only supports me financially but helps me mentally as well. It provides me challenges, development opportunities and other such stuff. These are all things which typically benefit a humans mental state. I won't go on about this anymore, I just feel it's important for aspiring pilots to see the industry for both its positives and negatives, and to go into this a realist.
Genuinely, I have no idea. Europe is seeing some recovery in the sector given the borderless Schengen zone among other things, but as for the U.K, the tourism market and also the market for face-to-face business travel... well.. that's anyones guess. A lot of us are sat waiting patiently for the UK's "Global Travel Taskforce" to outline the roadmap to international travel. We won't find that out til April 12th, with international travel resuming no sooner than May 17th. Of course that could be delayed further too!
^^ In fact, since I wrote that above paragraph the international travel ban has been extended to the 30th June. :-(
Being a skeptic, I do not see international travel coming back before maybe July / August at the earliest. Why you ask? Well quite simply the vaccine rollouts across Europe are all at a different pace. Where countries do allow travel it's quite likely to be for vaccinated individuals only and the percentage of people with both jabs will be quite small -- especially given the age demographic of your average holiday maker. There's so many unknowns. Business travel is likely curtailed significantly thanks to Zoom / Microsoft Teams etc providing a valuable alternative for the time being. Ultimately, it's impossible to predict.
If I compare that to 2019 I operated 290 flights and 582 hours (bearing in mind I only started flying in the March of that year) and in 2021 so far I've only operated two flights. It's quiet, quiet indeed and I hope things pick up soon!
Hopefully this little insight gave those of you curious an update on the state of the industry at the moment. If you're starting your training soon good luck with it all, it's an amazing process from start to finish and I hope that the industry picks up for you by the time you finish. As for me, I'm on furlough still from the airline and continue to work in I.T. on a practically full-time basis until things change. I have a currency sim in early April and two days of domestic flying later in the month for that same purpose. May brings my biannual line-check and hopefully we'll have a clearer picture about the industry before then!
All the best guys,