LINATE, ITALY - CIRCA NOVEMBER, 2017: interior shot of Alitalia Cityliner Embraer ERJ-175STD cockpit.

What if you couldn’t go to work, but your employer wouldn’t furlough you, and therefore can’t kick back and relax? That’s precisely the situation many pilots face around the world, particularly in Europe, and it’s only one of the many issues. Add in hard feelings between airlines and pilots after recent labor disputes, and it’s all out chaos for some airlines and their pilots…

Uncertainty and odd feelings are everywhere in the travel industry, not just with pilots. No one knows precisely when world health concerns will be alleviated, and when the traveling public can safely take to the skies again. Even when the all clear is given, there’s no telling what demand will do either.

For pilots, there’s an added level of oddity beyond what most in the travel industry face.

Unlike many travel industry employees, including cabin crew, most pilots haven’t been furloughed and allowed to take the dogs out for long walks. In many areas, including the UK and Europe, a furlough would bring too long an amount of time before a pilot could return to work, if demand were to rapidly pick up.

It would mean demand without supply, and airlines aren’t willing to chance that.

Yet many pilots make a significant 20-30% portion of their income,or greater from flying pay, and for the most part, most aren’t getting any. For relatively young pilots with massive flight school debts, it’s a real problem.

Making matters more tedious for pilots, regular checks and certifications to keep current aren’t easy to come by, which throws future viability of near term hours into spanner as well.

LINATE, ITALY - CIRCA NOVEMBER, 2017: interior shot of Alitalia Cityliner Embraer ERJ-175STD cockpit.To maintain appropriately stringent flying qualifications globally, pilots must complete a certain number of take offs and landings in various conditions, within a rolling 90 day period. Much of this work can be completed in simulators, but that requires the presence of training captains and other flight deck personnel, and that would mean breaking social distancing rules.

At costs of up to $500 an hour, these simulator scenarios aren’t cheap for airlines without their own training facilities, and as need grows across airlines, it gets even more complicated. Throw in safety concerns about even performing said checks, and pilots are finding the present extremely odd.

To help alleviate pressing concerns the EASA, the governing body of European aviation safety, UK CAA, and US FAA are working with airlines and their pilots to find safe compromises on certification extensions. This may include brief extensions on clean bills of health, licensing renewal or case by case relaxing of sim check requirements, or bureaucratic formalities.

In many cases, pilots are using the time at home to work on physical fitness, mental alertness and to review as many flight procedures as possible. Even a little jaunt with popular simulator games like Infinite Flight can help keep things fresh.

Passenger jet being moved using an aircraft tractor at Heathrow London AirportIn the UK, the government job retention scheme (JRS) would allow airlines to furlough pilots to retain the work force, while still receiving 80% of their pay. It’s effectively “free money” from the government to keep the world as close to pre-pandemic job security as humanly possible.

But furlough would mean pilots would be out of “current”, meaning they couldn’t then operate a flight at the flip of a switch, if demand were to sharply return. British Airways wants to be first out the gates when travel is advisable again, which has created a stalemate with BALPA, the pilot union group and the airline.

And then there’s the other big elephant in the room – travel demand.

Headlines of global airline pilot shortages were everywhere in 2019, but recent industry reports suggest air travel demand may not bounce back fully until 2023, which means a fair portion of the global pilot workforce is at risk in the interim.

When travel rebounds, there will be yet another shift, at least in the beginning. Airlines are rapidly retiring larger aircraft including the Boeing 747 “Queen of the Skies” and super jumbo Airbus A380. This means many pilots will need to retrain, or take additional time away from the actual sky to learn a new aircraft type.

This is common place for pilots, but in a time where simulator slots won’t be readily available, it may take additional time, and time is money for both airline and pilot. At the very least, it’s odd times for airline pilots right now, but then again it’s odd times for everyone.


Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Not sure where all of this info came from. some of it is accurate but most is not:

    100% of a pilots income here in the US comes from flying hours. I do not know how else I can make money unless you are referring to Per Diem which is $2 per hour tax free money while on an overnight trip. Now there are trip rigs and guarantees that allows us to credit more hours than we actually fly but they are still flying hours. Pilots are all hourly employees with a minimum guarantee at the major/regional airlines.

    Most airlines have adopted long call reserve during this period. Most pilots who were line holders like I was are suddenly on reserve. We can sit it home and wait for a call and have at-least 12 hours to make it to base. Commuting is the hardest its ever been in history so chief pilots and crew scheduling is working with us if we cannot make it and it is not in our control. Regional airlines have commuter clauses so if you cannot get to work, you will usually be excused but unpaid.

    Even with the reduced flying , the takeoff and landing stipulation is very easy to attain and the FAA has extended training grace months for recurrent training. All pilots have 2 extra month at my airline before they need to go to the Simulator. If furloughed for a long period of time you will be back in the SIM anyway so no big deal there. There is no certification required to keep current. Only additional certification needed for pilots are those who switch to a different aircraft, that is a type rating which is added on your certificate, not a new certificate.

    You are correct that young pilots on the bottom of the seniority list who make very little and are drowning in debt are in for some trouble. No other profession in the world has the cost and barrier to entry as aviation for the starting pay and responsibility of having others lives in your hand.

  2. Hi there previous commenters.

    Im a British ex airline pilot who immigrated to the US to fly corporate jets for a while before you chose your wonderful idiot Pres.

    Gilbert was referring to the UK system mainly and specified as such. He’s right and wrote accurately.

    Now…I know, I know, you Americans think you are the best, and the only people that count. You have the only and best system on the planet…for everything.

    You don’t actually… and in Europe it’s different.

  3. Funny Andy how our country was good enough to offer you a job yet you feel entitled to insult the president and American citizens. Go back to the U.K. and stay there, we don’t need your type in the US.

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