Coronavirus: The bleak outlook 2020-05-29 09:23:29 2020-05-29 16:12:31
Pilot George
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Coronavirus: The bleak outlook

29 May 2020

I hope you're keeping well...

A lot has changed in our lives since my last post on the 30th March and in the UK we are now entering our tenth week of restrictions. While said restrictions are now being lifted somewhat it is safe to say that our lives will be different for time to come. In fact, I'm not sure I can even predict when the old normal will return and that's something we're going to have to adjust to as a global society. Each of us are all too aware of the true damage this is causing, not only to those people who have sadly lost their lives - and may they rest in peace - but also to the mental wellbeing, and financial security of thousands of people worldwide. This COVID world to which we now abode is so far from our understanding of daily life that hopping into a time machine to tell your past self would no doubt lead to strange looks and perhaps an awkward laugh in return. I would like to say at this point before I write the rest of this post that I hope each of you reading this are keeping "alert" - whatever that means?! - and that you and your loved ones remain largely unaffected; health wise at least. 

The impact on the aviation industry...

Prior to deciding to enrol on a course of flight training I was all too aware of how cyclical this industry is and that at some point I may well face a threat of losing a job. I could never have anticipated it to be so soon into a career though but sadly these are events we have little control over. The aviation industry somewhat mirrors the financial markets and its peaks and troughs are as much a risk for the budding pilot as the initial financial outlay. If we look back on the first twenty years of the this century we can pinpoint two prior events: 9/11 and the 2008 crash. Both led to lots of job losses for different reasons and sadly 9/11 also brought the large loss of life. Ultimately the then unthinkable damaged confidence in the travelling public and introduced sweeping changes in airport security. COVID19 will do the same with temperature checking etc, although the final airport experience is no doubt going to evolve as we begin to learn what works best at scale. While the 2008 financial crisis was not as tragic, it ultimately led to the loss of disposable income the aviation sector so heavily relies on. COVID19 is a virus, as we know, but unlike the two events prior it's impact can be described with one word. Abrupt. Neither of the previously mentioned events grounded global fleets to the scale we see today. Heck, take a stroll around the perimeter fence of Bournemouth Airport at the moment and you'll see rows of British Airways A320 aircraft sat awaiting their next flights. It's all up in the air at the moment which is an ironic statement given planes are far from it. 

To outline the rather bleak outlook at the moment, here's a list of some changes airlines have made:

  • KLM retires remaining 747 fleet (exception of Cargo)
  • AirFrance retires A380 fleet
  • Virgin Atlantic retires 747 fleet
  • IAG considers acceleration of 747 / A340 fleet
  • Norwegian closes four crew subsidiaries with up to 4,700 job losses* and grounds fleet until April 2021
  • Ryanair announces up to 3000 job cuts*
  • British Airways looks to abandon Gatwick operation
  • Virgin Atlantic pulls out of Gatwick, retires 747 fleet and cuts up to a 3,000 jobs*
  • British Airways announces up to 12,000 job cuts* 
  • easyJet expresses intention to cut 30% of it's workforce*
  • Lufthansa closes its Germanwings division
  • AirFrance bailout conditional on "green" terms - potential shrinkage in short-haul operation*
  • Wizz cuts 1000 jobs from its workforce

You'd be correct to think it's not a good market out there right now. We pilots, cabin crew and indeed non-frontline staff are facing the very real prospect of an end to the careers we so passionately enjoy. That list is in no way exhaustive and are just in Europe. There are cuts happening in every aviation market around the world but i'd go so far as to say the only segment safe at the moment is cargo. 

*A little disclaimer if I may
The job loss figures listed above are what I'd consider headline figures. Bosses of larger corporations often publish a figure to the markets about their intended job cuts but more often than not union discussions result in a different end-figure. The reduction in said figures are more often than not coming from forced part-time, voluntary redundancy schemes etc. The final details for which are known only between the employer, union and employee.

The future of flying...

This is such an unknown that at this point everything I write is subject to change but I'll give some context where I can at least. A couple of weeks ago now I shared a Forbes article on my Facebook Page titled Future Air Travel: Four-Hour Process, Self Check-In, Disinfection, Immunity Passes which shared quite a few ideas for the future of air travel. Despite the European Union's calls to the contrary, it is looking very likely that the one of the key policies of the union, the freedom of movement between borders, is going to be suspended for some time; or at least altered from how we knew it. Each country was hit by the COVID pandemic in different ways and it'll therefore look likely each country will relax any travel restrictions at their own pace. As a clear example, Spain has announced it will open its borders to foreign tourists from the 1st of July whereas Greece will only open to tourists from 29 countries from June 15, to which the UK is sadly not on the list. It is clear that this whole unlocking of society and indeed the connected return of air travel is to be linked to each countries governmental response to the virus and resultant fatality rate, or.. I guess.. the 'r' number. The United Kingdom sadly has one of the highest rates of death in the Western world and as a Brit that fills me with sadness. I am not a qualified scientist and nor do I feel qualified to comment on the different ways in which the overall fatality rate is calculated, but it is clear that it might be some time before Brits or indeed many global citizens can travel as widely as we used to.

Removing my affiliation with this industry for a moment I can tell you that I have no desire to travel to the United States for some time, at least until they start seeing a fall in deaths and even see a fall in cases, and I can completely understand why Greece might look at the UK in the same light. They're playing the damage control card and wish to reduce any chance of spread from any external source. Brits love their sun holiday so it'd be almost certain we'd fly to Greek islands in large numbers if were we permitted to do so. It's a tough pill to swallow though given it is this rather sensible approach that could lead to the demise of my career - at least short term - but I understand the reasoning. The UK is imposing a 14 day quarantine on inbound travellers which will only delay a return to work that bit further, irrespective of Spain's open borders. 

As for being on the aircraft, the relevant aviation authorities have come together to form a list of guidelines airlines and airports must follow. We have already seen both easyJet and Ryanair publish their respective policies on COVID19 travel, both practically identical and sticking to the guidance created. Ultimately what we know is:

  • Only passengers travelling will be allowed into the terminal
  • Masks must be worn from the moment you enter the departure airport to the moment you leave the destination airport.
  • Online check-in and self-bag drop is preferred
  • Cabin crew and pilots will wear PPE to protect themselves at work (Masks, Gloves, etc)
  • Food/Drinks services on board will be limited, if not removed entirely in the short term
  • Turn around times will likely be lengthened to accommodate social distancing
  • Aircraft will be heavily disinfected each evening, way beyond what has ever been done before.
  • From the airport perspective you might have your temperature checked depending on local airport guidance and retailers or restaurants may or may not be open initially; again depending on local guidance.

I would be hesitant to say there will be a large demand for travel post the re-opening of international air travel. There will certainly be some people who will want to get that itch scratched so to speak, but there will equally be many - if not the vast majority - who will fear that flying on a plane will increase their chances of catching COVID19 or, perhaps more so, that the already anxious flier would have an even higher sense of anxiety when required to wear a mask for the duration of any flight. Of course, I'd like to hope the real restoration of travel sits somewhere in the middle. 

On the subject of safety onboard, there is a common misconception that air is not replaced on an aircraft and it is simply recirculated. While re-circulation does occur it is in no way how the vast majority of the air is supplied. I link you to an article from which has quite a useful video explanation as well as a doctors explanation, should you wish to learn more.

My own future...

It hangs in the balance at the moment, that's for sure. I currently work for one of the airlines which have announced plans to make some of their workforce redundant which includes a period of 45 days whereby unions and employer representatives can discuss what the eventual redundancy plan might look like. Fortunately, I remain furloughed throughout June and July. It is odd to think my last flight could well have been back in March. I hang my hopes on the fact I work for what in normal times can be considered a profitable carrier, out of perhaps one of their most profitable bases. I also didn't know until I started digging on the topic that Last In First Out is now frowned upon in the UK if used as the sole metric for compulsory redundancy should it unfairly target a particular age group; so that's another minor plus I suppose. Ultimately I can't say which way this might go and all I can do is hold out hope. Hope for myself; but also hope for several of my peers who graduated flight school in the same year I did. We could never have anticipated such a global pandemic to occur when we started training back in 2016 but here we are. Fingers crossed everyone!

I'll leave a copy of my related Facebook Page post below, and I hope that I will have some positive news in the coming weeks. 


The prospect of redundancy so soon into a career is an odd feeling. It makes you question if the job actually ever existed; as if any day now I’ll wake up in my uni accommodation having only dreamt of doing the job I so love. This industry is truly changing and it’s not just in one airline either, it’s global and perhaps the biggest existential change in its history. To all those pilots with uncertain futures, I’ve my fingers crossed we all make it out the other side of this abrupt pause. While our terms, conditions and pay may change, it wasn’t necessarily those which ignited the passion. For me, it was the sheer thrill of flying. That same thrill which returns with every application of takeoff thrust. It is that undeniable burning passion that bonds many in the industry, not so much the uniform we wear or the type of aircraft we fly - despite many saying the contrary on the latter. What I and no doubt many others wouldn’t give to just go up in a Cessna for the day at the moment, alas.. i have no SEP rating. In the meantime, despite the outlook, we must let the necessary discussions take place and, for now at least, enjoy the sunshine from the ground.

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