Bhanu Choudhrie on COVID-19 and the Future of Pilot Training
In early April, United Airlines postponed its training class for new pilots, making them the latest carrier to do so. Other airlines are also expected to follow suit over the next six months in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has dramatically reduced the need for pilots in the short term.
However, this pandemic will eventually result in a significant shortage of available pilots, hindering the airline industry’s ability to recover from this temporary setback. China has already resumed domestic flights and international flights will follow shortly. Airlines need to start taking the necessary steps now to ensure they can handle the eventual increase in traffic.
The Growing Role of Simulators
Flight simulators will assume a greater role in aviation training during this period. While they’re already essential for keeping experienced crews sharp, the grounding of flights increases the need to use simulators for training new pilots until airlines can get their fleets back in the air. Flying requires constant practice to maintain the highest level of competency, just like any other skill. This is the reasons airlines have recency rules, which require pilots to perform a specified number of take-offs, landings and approaches within a certain period of time before their flight.
Pilots will need more time in simulators to comply with their airlines’ recency requirements during this period. Simulator training for an experienced crew typically involves working together to solve a particular problem, while training for new pilots focuses on the correct procedures for a normal flight. Simulator training is most beneficial when pilots treat the entire experience as if it were a real flight.
Simulators are already effective in providing pilot training without the operational costs of a real flight. However, airlines are likely to require their pilots to undergo simulator training before they can return to work after a prolonged break from flying. Simulators also provide cadets with complete training by recreating multiple scenarios to ensure effective aircraft operations.
The latest advancements in simulator technology continue to bridge the gap between theory and reality. For example, Alpha Aviation recently invested in a new Alsim-AL172 flight simulator. This model features two cockpit seats, including a Cessna 172 cockpit and a flight deck. It will be an essential tool for enhancing the skills of experienced pilots and training new ones while flights are curtailed. The Alsim-AL172 will also provide great opportunities for pilots once air travel resumes its regular schedule.
Effects on Recruitment
Airlines have generally halted their recruitment of new pilots to see how the COVID-19 situation develops, although there are still a few exceptions among the major carriers. They have also furloughed their current pilots as well as cabin crews, ground crews and air traffic controllers to compensate for the loss of revenue. Some countries are looking for other solutions to improving the sudden unemployment of these workers. For example, Dagens Industri reports that cabin crews in Sweden are receiving opportunities to be trained as medical support staff due to the increased need for medical services.
Student pilots who have recently started their education or are planning to do so in 2020 can expect airlines to renew their recruitment efforts by the time they graduate over the next two years. Airlines will have to start recruiting again in the near future to replace pilots reaching mandatory retirement, generally 65 years of age.
The aviation industry has previously experienced hardships similar to the current COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the SARS outbreak of 2003 produced a V-shaped impact on this industry, as measured by revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs). Asian Pacific airlines lost more than a third of their RPK three months after that crisis began, but they completely recovered after another three months. While this result isn’t guaranteed for future outbreaks, it does show that the aviation industry has the potential for rapid recovery from these events. Other world events such as war, terrorism and oil crises have also created significant declines in the short term, but the aviation sector has consistently demonstrated long-term resilience. For example, the worldwide financial crisis of 2008 deeply affected aviation until 2010, when annual growth in that sector reached a historic high.
However, the scale of the COVID-19 situation is unprecedented in modern history, which could result in a different recovery pattern from previous outbreaks. Predicting the outcome is futile at this point, but signs of recovery are already apparent in regions that have been affected the longest. Cathay Pacific is already adding flights to Europe and the United States, which could indicate a positive trend as the spread of this virus is contained. Regardless of the long-term recovery, COVID-19 will still have a great effect on the global demand for air travel for the remainder of 2020.
About Bhanu Choudhrie
Bhanu Choudhrie is the founder of Alpha Aviation Group, an organization dedicated to training future commercial airline pilots in underserved countries like the Philippines. Choudhrie is also the founder and executive director of C&C Alpha Group, a global private equity firm based in London.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes