Should I Start Pilot Training During The Covid-19 Pandemic?

Article by Aviatrix West in paid collaboration with 43 Air School

Few things are able to instantly inspire people. Which future pilot doesn’t have a collection of inspiration content on their phones, or virtually pinned to a board on Pinterest? Who doesn’t follow hundreds of qualified pilots on Instagram to see the rewards of perseverance?

Well, even if you do all that you’re probably still scratching your head, locked down up at home, wondering how to make your dream a reality in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic. Especially when some of the airlines on your vision board have gone bankrupt, and several of the pilot’s you follow (including myself) have been retrenched. Maybe you’re thinking of throwing in the towel before you’ve even gotten started.

The truth is, I don’t blame you. Even I have days when I wonder whether I’ll ever be back in the air. Though, after extensive reading (and constantly reminding myself not to be a pessimist), I’ve come across several reassurances that the aviation industry will pick up again. Why? Simply because this industry fluctuates with economic cycles: so a handful of dreadful years for the economy - where finding an aviation job is almost impossible - will immediately be followed by years in which it’s possible to have a job lined up before you graduate. As a pilot you’ll just have to get accustomed to riding these waves. It’s simply unfortunate that Covid-19 has taken this cycle to the extreme, and we find ourselves in an unprecedented situation in which travel bans have brought the industry to a standstill.

Fleets are grounded due to the current travel bans and lock down restrictions.

But things will change. Eventually we will be allowed out of the house, then back into restaurants, and back into aircraft. The economy will pick up, airlines will expand once again to deal with the increased travel demand and who will fly these aircraft? We will. Well, only if you continue as planned and dive into pilot training.

Consider this: it usually takes at least 2 years to complete pilot training up to obtaining a Frozen ATPL. This means the economy has 2 years in which to pick up before you’re faced with searching for your first job as a low hour pilot. A lot will change in that time. It is forecast that several airline captains will choose early retirement due to the current standstill.

Some retrenched pilots will be forced to find work in other sectors to make ends meet, never finding their way back to the flight deck. Many young pilots facing their first recession will decide to put their days of flying behind them by voluntarily jumping ship. And then, of course, there’s those like you - standing on the edge, wondering whether to take a leap of faith by jumping into flight training.

Several people are wondering whether they should still follow their dreams by enrolling in pilot training.

Without a doubt, many of you staring into the abyss will walk away from your flying dreams, resulting in fewer future pilots entering the industry. All this will have a ripple effect, increasing one’s chances of finding a job in the future.

But there’s another pressing question for future student pilots to consider: what about all the airlines and charter companies that have closed? How can you possibly find jobs if there are less companies to work for? When travel picks up again (even if it only increases back to the level it was at before Covid-19) it means that existing airlines and charter companies will expand to operate on the routes that become available due to airlines going bankrupt.

In the end, you might have less companies to choose from, but any expansion requires more pilots (which means more jobs). As well as many new airlines will launch to fill gaps in the market.

So if you’re certain that flying is your calling, and are fortunate enough to be in a position to fund your training during this recession, enrolling in pilot training might not be a bad option.

In fact, to some degree you might even be better off starting your journey now than those already knee deep in aviation. Here are some reasons why:

1) No rush to graduate:

Because of Covid-19 and the uncertain times, you will be in a position where you don’t need to rush to graduate sooner. Instead you can take time to focus on committing to your studies and fully understanding all concepts. Why not take an extra week (or two) if necessary to prepare for an exam if it means you will be a safer pilot in the future. I used this strategy when studying for my ATPL exams in South Africa - I was in no rush to finish. I simply wanted to understand as much as possible. This also carries through to the practical part of flight training. Yes, it is possible to fly twice a day to race through your training, but sometimes slowing down and only flying two or three times a week can give you the chance to fully understand what you have been taught. As I recently saw in my Airbus type rating, time spent ‘arm chair’ flying (where you visualize yourself flying various procedures from the comfort of your home) is just as important as real flying.

2) Aviation work experience:

Perhaps now, more than ever, students should be encouraged to gain work experience in the industry while studying. Yes, it will take longer to complete, but at the end of the day, having recently graduated, when applying for flying positions it is often viewed more favorably than having completed training in a shorter time frame. So why not enroll in a modular course and volunteer to learn about flight ops or work at the fuel bay while you train? It might not be a glamorous job but I promise, you will learn a lot in the process, add relevant work experience to your CV and network with people who could give you your first flying job.

3) Combining training with a degree:

Another possibility could be using this time to your advantage by enrolling in a distance learning degree while you train. So instead of being ready to enter the workplace in 2 years, it could take you 3-4 years but you will also have a degree to embellish your CV and that serves as a backup plan. Aviation management degrees are the obvious choice but you do not have to limit yourself to that, the possibilities are endless.

Since pilot jobs are limited during a recession, combining pilot training with a degree is a great idea.

So although things currently look grim, we can’t give up hope. Yes, there is much uncertainty about life after Covid-19, which makes it hard to speculate on what the outcome will be.

I believe that the virus will leave a lasting mark on the industry – and what I have written is simply my opinion on the subject. Though, maybe it is time to update your vision board with different airlines, and to include a few new inspiring quotes to keep you motivated on your journey that has suddenly become a winding road instead of the express route you had carefully planned out.

After all, a pilot needs to be dynamic and able to adapt to change. So I’ll get you started with your first new motivational quote from Brandy Johnson for what lies ahead: “Set your goals, follow your dreams, and don’t let anything stand in your way.”

Now it’s your turn.

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The views presented in this article are solely the author's based on available information at the time of writing. The purpose of this blog is to inform readers, not to provide professional advice. Readers are advised to research further and consult relevant professionals, such as flight training schools. Readers are cautioned when acting on information provided and assume all risk from such actions.