04 February 2021

​Pilot employment during a global pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the aviation industry and there is nobody that this affects more than pilots. The severe decline in demand for air travel from passengers as well as national and regional government travel restrictions has forced several airlines to declare bankruptcy. Some have ceased operations while others have recorded historic levels of reduction in flights, as well as accelerating aircraft retirement.

Utilising the data gathered from The Pilot Survey 2021 that we completed in collaboration with FlightGlobal, we share with you the results of how the pilot employment market is performing.

Throughout 2020 we have been at the forefront of the ongoing coverage of the aviation downturn and we wanted to see the real impact this has had on the employment profile of pilots across the world.

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. These regions were struggling to supply the number of pilots required to meet the demand for air travel. Notably this year we saw levels of unemployment in China reach 43%, with South America at 41% close behind. North America fared the best out of the flying regions with 20% of pilots unemployed.

Katie Mann, Global Sales Manager – Recruitment Portfolio of FlightGlobal said: “North America’s flying market has remained more buoyant than most. This is down to the domestic market remaining relatively stable as well as the lack of national lockdowns enforced by the US government so far.”

17% of the pilots we surveyed identified their employment status as furloughed. We acknowledge that ‘furlough’ has different meanings in different countries with a huge variety of compensation packages on offer. In most cases, local governments have offered some assistance in monetary terms to those whose employment has been affected by the pandemic. 20% of all first officers are currently on furlough and additionally, 17% of captains are too. China had the largest group of pilots on furlough at 24%. Europe at 16% and South America at 14%, were the lowest furloughed groups. However, pilots in these two regions have also been affected by unemployment, hinting that airlines in these regions have had to make tough decisions faster than others.

There have been many stories in the press of pilots taking on new roles during the pandemic. We have seen pilots take on jobs at supermarkets and online retailers like Amazon as a couple of examples. This feels like an extreme representation of the market, however, 4% of the pilots we surveyed are facing this as a reality.

“Whilst 43% of pilots state they are currently employed and flying, it is simply a shocking reality of the state of the aviation industry that more than half of the world’s pilots are not employed as pilots and flying as they have trained to do so,” Mann stated.

You can read the full Pilot Survey Report 2021
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