So out of nowhere, COVID-19 has come and hit aviation like a Steamroller, which leaves trainee pilots to make some serious decisions in regards to flight training with COVID-19.
We are in an unprecedented time where most airline fleets are grounded, staff are furloughed and unfortunately, airlines are going into administration. So where does this leave anyone who is thinking about training? This is a good question and while nobody including me has a crystal ball as to what is going to happen there are a lot of things we can take into consideration now.
- What pilot shortage? I think the so-called pilot shortage is over (if it ever existed). Over the last few years, airlines such as Monarch, Primera Air, Air Berlin, Wow Air, Thomas Cook, Adria, and Flybe have gone under. This list is not exhaustive, there are others as well.
What does this mean for the trainee pilot? Well, it’s not good news. Not only are there fewer airlines for you to try and seek employment with, but a huge amount of pilots from these airlines are also job hunting. This means there is more competition for fewer jobs, and these pilots have way more experience than you will as a freshly minted commercial pilot.
I don’t think there is an airline pilot in the world feeling totally safe from losing their jobs and some airlines are literally fighting for their survival. This is why having a plan b always helps. Do you have a backup career or other skills that you can fall back on if the job doesn’t materialise? Career changers naturally tend to have something else they can do but what about if you are younger and have not established a career yet? College or university could be an idea over the next few years.
- How much? I have never believed in paying excessive amounts of money for flight training. Now more than ever the though of paying £100,000+ for flight training to me seems insane. Modular can be done for at least half the price (and oftentimes less). Also, flight schools will also likely be facing cashflow issues so the advice is the same as always, do not pay upfront. If the school goes under they will likely take your money with them. You will end up at the back of a long line of creditors with little to no hope of seeing your money again.
I have recently read a post about someone who was on an airline tagged scheme, has been let go, and now has £125,000 of debt and no job. These companies don’t give unsecured loans so they will likely be secured against a high-value asset, likely a house. This then puts you in a situation where you have to service the loan or risk losing your home (or worse, your parent’s home). Is it worth it?
- Timing. When to start your training? None of us have a crystal ball but we can look at what’s happening right now. The odds of getting a job in the current climate is not great, but in a year, 2 years, 3 years? Who knows. It seems like getting a job in aviation is a mixture of qualifications, skill, timing, and luck.
First things first, we need to decide if training at all right now makes sense. Maybe you want to put of all training for a few months to let the dust settle a bit. Remember, if you start training (say for a PPL) then have to stop for any reason (such as losing a job) you will end up spending more money than if you completed it all in one go. Continuous training certainly has a value and makes it easier to pick things up.
If you were planning to get your PPL (Private Pilots Licence) anyway then as long as you can afford it, there’s no real harm in doing so. This will allow you to start your ATPL exams, which are 14 exams and can take anywhere from 6 months – 2 years to complete. Who knows where the industry might be in the time it takes you to complete them.
The next step would be hour building which you could do very slowly to keep you flying. You could even do the bare minimum flying and then do a few months of hour building when you decide the time is right to move on to the commercial training.
Would I personally do the CPL ME IR (Commerical Pilots Licence, Multi-Engine, Instrument Rating) right now? Unlikely. The reason being that this is an expensive part of your training that is likely going to cost somewhere from £15,000 – £30,000 depending on where and on what equipment you do it on. I don’t think it makes sense to spend so much money when job prospects are so bleak. On top of this, skills fade over time when not being used and the ratings need to be renewed yearly. For the first revalidation you can do it in the simulator but the second year you have to do it back in an aircraft. After a year the chances of you being ready for a skill test straight away are not high, so you will need to factor in some refresher training.
It makes sense to do this training when things are looking better and the chances of getting a job are greatly improved.
I think this is the time to take of rose-tinted glasses and look at this situation and make head over heart decisions and do what is best for you. I know this is not what a lot of people will want to read, and as a trainee, I probably would not have liked it either. However, I felt it was important to add a post to this site showing the reality of the situation as we stand.
To sum up what I would do right now if I hadn’t already started my training? Sit tight, spend nothing and wait and see what the landscape is in a few months.