While the Corona Virus has thrown Aviation and many other industries onto the knees, you can still find flying schools stating “now is a good time to start becoming a pilot”. It takes about 2 years to become a pilot and we all hope things will return to “normal” soon. But who really knows what it’s going to look like in the near future for pilots and if starting pilot training now is truly wise?

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Let’s try to look at it. When the media has brought stories about “lack of pilots” – it has always been a lack of experienced pilots. It would seem highly unlikely that there will be a lack of pilots in general in 2 years from now.

How bad aviation and the economy is going to suffer is of course hard to predict without knowing how and when we get out of the Corona Pandemic. At the moment it is all guess work. What is probably the case is that the longer the Pandemic lasts the more the economy is likely to suffer.The whole idea behind starting now, would be to graduate and get your wings when the airlines are hirering again but lets look at what needs to happen before getting a job straight from flying school is getting any easier.

Before things are likely to start opening up in the Aviation Industry, there are three major things to tackle: Covid-19, the economy and passenger numbers.

First we need to tackle Covid-19 for example by vaccine or by herd immunity. As long as Covid-19 is in the world and there are unanswered questions like “can you get it again“, “is a 2nd or 3rd wave coming“, international travel restrictions are likely to be something we have to live with. Airlines are going to have a hard time keeping up with the different restrictions and during this time it is very uncertain times where recruitment of pilots is likely to be minimal.

We are not in a recession at the moment but based on unemployment numbers and how the economy is at the moment, many news outlets have started to discuss if we are heading for times like the great depression in the 1930’s. If we look at how long it took to recover, we can get an idea of what we are heading for if these predictions are going to become true. We are talking general time periods as the recession occurred with slightly different time variations in different countries. The great depression started in 1929 and the recovery began roughly in 1933 and it took a decade for the economy to fully recover. We have of course also seen much more recent recessions, that we can look at. For the economy to recover from the 1990’s recession that lasted 8 months, it took approximately 3 years. For the economy to recover from the 2008 recession that lasted 18 months, it took about 1,5 years. If we are heading towards something that can be compared to the great depression or in fact any of the previous recessions, it seems hard to believe that we are back to normal in mid-2021or 2022.

Then there is passenger numbers. Passengers needs to trust that it is safe to travel and there needs to be a travel demand. According to “Harumi Ito & Darin Lee (2005) Comparing the Impact of the September 11th Terrorist Attacks on International Airline Demand, International Journal of the Economics of Business, 12:2, 225-249” https://doi.org/10.1080/13571510500127931 “the September 11th terrorist attacks had far-reaching effects on air travel demand beyond the US. In all of the countries we investigated, we find large (i.e., 12%–37%) ongoing downward shifts in demand for international air travel that had not dissipated by the end of 2003” Of course you can argue that 9/11 and Covid-19 cannot be compared, but in The International Air Transport Association (IATA) briefing 2nd May 2006 there is an interesting statement https://www.iata.org/en/iata-repository/publications/economic-reports/impact-ofsept-11th-2001-attack/ this briefing mentions “The findings of a smaller but long-lasting adverse impact on travel may be associated with an increase in the perceived risk of air travel, but are also likely to be a measure of the increased time and inconvenience cost or hassle due to the subsequent introduction of more rigorous passenger screening and security measures”. The question is if Covid-19 will cause a perceived risk of air travel and more rigorous passenger screening and security measures? If it does, then it is likely that there could be a similar long-lasting adverse impact.

There is also some interesting data made available on The International Air Transport Association (IATA) website on how previous disease outbreaks has impacted Aviation https://www.iata.org/en/iata-repository/publications/economic-reports/coronavirus-initial-impact-assessment/. Furthermore in the IATA Economics’ Chart of the Weekbriefing dated 24’Th January 2020 https://www.iata.org/en/iata-repository/publications/economic-reports/what-can-we-learn-from-past-pandemic-episodes/ the following statement is found “In the past, the airline industry has proven resilient to shocks, including pandemics, as today’s chart shows. Even in the outbreak of SARS, monthly international passenger traffic returned to its pre-crisis level within nine months.” This sounds promising but can Covid-19 really be compared to something we have seen already?

Many of us are going to have our holidays without crossing any borders this summer. Many countries are also setting up campaigns about the importance of supporting local businesses and urge you to plan local holidays. Businesses have been forced to do meetings online and while good old fashion face to face business meetings, travelling abroad for a holiday in the sun, are likely to still be of high importance, there could be a drop in passenger numbers. Holiday passengers will maybe not have the money or desire to go as they used to. Businesses may want to protect their key employees and figure out that it is much more productive to do online meetings in general. That kind of passenger behaviour could be really hurtful for the Aviation Industry. If there is an overcapacity it could lead to a slow recovery for the Aviation Industry and some really tough battles between surviving Airlines. Based on 9/11 and previous pandemics impact on the Aviation Industry it also seems likely that the recovery of the Aviation Industry is going to happen different from region to region.

So what could be good advice to someone who dreams about becoming a pilot now? 

The overall message is not “don’t become a pilot” but if you do decide to become a pilot now, be prepared that it seems rather unlikely at the moment, that there will be a return to the golden times in just 2 years from now. Even with experienced pilots on the market some airlines might still offer opportunities for new pilots. Why? Because they are interested in a mix of age and experience in the airline and because it can be a good business to do overpriced type ratings and keep pilots on a cadet pay. We could also see a rise in popularity of the pay to fly schemes. As a general rule, terms and conditions for pilots are unlikely to get any better until the Industry has recovered fully and demand for pilots start to pick up. The saviour for new pilots could be technology advancements in Regional Air Mobility, for example the Lilium Jet https://lilium.com or if private jet travel becomes more affordable and widespread.

When it comes to timing when to start your pilot training, here is some advice:

A high number of pilots are likely to lose their job as a result of Covid-19 and pilots with experience will probably be in front of you when it comes to getting a job. You could therefor start to monitor when airlines are starting to hire pilots again and use that as an indication of when the Aviation industry starts to recover.

Follow the news! Follow the situation of Covid-19. Pay particular attention to anything about a vaccine or anything about a second or third wave of the virus. Follow when different countries are starting to open up as this will give an indication of when the economy can start to recover.

General advice:

  • Trust no guarantees and remember that flying schools want you to become a pilot, so some schools will be trying to present the industry very positive, to get your money.
  • Be prepared to fight for getting a job. Network, being able to sell yourself, timing and luck – has been some of the most important factors when it comes to getting a job as a pilot.
  • Have a plan B. Have a degree or experience to fall back onto, if you graduate and there are no pilot jobs around.
  • Save as much money you can before you start your pilot training, so you have to borrow less. That will give you a better chance of being able to accept a pilot job that pays next to nothing or even pay to fly schemes. 
  • Think about why you want to become a pilot? Do some research to figure out if your dreams are realistic. 
  • Ask yourself that if terms and conditions for pilots got worse would you still like to become a pilot? 
  • Try to figure out what kind of pilot you want to become. What kind of flying would you like to do in your career? Once you know that, it might be easier to consider integrated vs modular training and training abroad.

Getting non-biased information and planning becoming a pilot can be difficult. For anyone who considers becoming a pilot, we can recommend reading our book “how do I become a pilot” https://askapilot.net/product/how-do-i-become-a-pilot/

Happy landings,