Utilising the data gathered from The Pilot Survey 2021 that we completed in collaboration with FlightGlobal, we share the devastating impact of the pilot unemployment rate. A staggering 30% of pilots are now unemployed. In direct contrast, we reported in our 2020 survey that the demand for pilots was at a record high, particularly in growing markets such as China, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.
For pilots in the unfortunate position of being unemployed, we wanted to find out more information about their situation. We asked, “Are you currently unemployed due to the pandemic?” 84% said yes. Many pilots provided more detail to their answer:
“I was a training captain with Thomas Cook for a significant period of my career, but I was made redundant in September 2019. I secured a new position as a captain at Flybe. I was then made redundant again in March 2020. At 61, I feel I have little chance of any further employment as a pilot.”
“The airline I flew for grounded 50% of their fleet. The priority was to keep the locals employed and I suffered redundancy as an ex-pat.”
“The base and the company I was flying at declared bankruptcy at an early stage when the pandemic hit Europe.”
“I resigned from my previous employer in December 2019 to join a major airline in the Middle East in March 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, my employment offer has now been withdrawn.”
“I have lost four flying jobs due to the pandemic this year.”
There was a huge number of pilots impacted by the collapse of both Thomas Cook and Flybe. Many ex-Thomas Cook pilots had secured employment at Flybe, only to suffer the consequences of unemployment again due to another airline’s demise. Others had resigned from airlines on the promise of a contract with a new employer, only to have this withdrawn as the pandemic hit. Overall, the consequences of the virus have been a decline in flights leading to the deterioration in the financial stability of airlines, both creating redundancies from airlines to produce the 30% unemployment level.
Whilst many were forced into unemployment, others did make their own decisions:
“I was working in China until January 2020. I left because of the Coronavirus outbreak and the company’s financial situation was bleak.”
“I couldn’t face the prospect of being stuck in a country away from my family due to travel restrictions, so I made the difficult decision to resign. I currently have no prospect of new employment. I had to prioritise being with my family over flying.”
We continued by asking “What is your job-seeking status?” 66% of pilots were actively seeking new pilot roles, whilst only 3% were currently in the interview process for at least one pilot job. This speaks volumes of the reality of the pilot recruitment market. Captains were the most likely to be in the interview process with 5% of unemployed captains in this group, with only 2% of unemployed first officers.
If the recruitment market is bleak, what sacrifices will pilots make to secure a new role? We asked, “Would you take a pay cut for a new pilot opportunity?” 82% agreed that they would. Those who normally fly in North America were the least likely to take a pay cut at 71%, whilst those flying in the Middle East and Africa were the most likely at 88%. First officers were more likely to take a pay cut than captains (84%, 79% respectively). At first, we were surprised that this figure wasn’t higher but there are many considerations to take on board when contemplating taking a pay cut.
Mark Charman, CEO & Founder of GOOSE Recruitment commented: “Some pilots, particularly highly experienced ones will be hesitant about taking a pay cut due to the concerns over devaluing the profession. The acceptance of a deterioration of terms at this point could lead to an industry-wide reduction in times to come. Some pilots will fear this change and will remain firm in the value that their qualifications, experience and skills lend to the industry and may even disapprove of those pilots that would be willing to take a pay cut. However, with so many unemployed pilots, there is a risk that the desperation to secure a new role for financial stability will be too attractive and we could be at risk of seeing remuneration packages decline over the next two years.”
We next asked, “Is this the first time you have been unemployed during your flying career?” For 69% of pilots, this was their first time experiencing unemployment, whilst nearly a third had been through it before in their flying career. Unsurprisingly, captains with additional years in the profession were more likely to have been unemployed before (36% had been previously), whilst for first officers, only 26% had been unemployed before.
Breaking this down further into regional differences, pilots who normally fly in China (45%) had been unemployed before and those who had previously flown in North America (43%) had previously been unemployed. Pilots shared their experiences with us:
“This is the third occasion that an aviation downturn has pushed me into unemployment in my career.”
“I’ve been flying since the early ’90s and I’ve endured the global financial crisis, 9/11 as well as SARS and the repercussions of unemployment.”
“In the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s company failures were frequent. I was lucky to have stable employment for 26 years, with a few near bankruptcies in the airlines I flew for. The good times are over, at least in my lifetime but probably for good.”
Common themes for their current situation was their age with many feeling forced to retire and general issues with aviation businesses and airlines going into administration.