26 March 2021

As part of The Pilot Survey 2021, conducted with FlightGlobal, we asked whether pilots felt their mental health had been impacted by the pandemic. 40% agreed that it had. What was most significant was how the age of the pilot affected whether their mental health had been impacted. 58% of those under 24 years old said their mental health had been impacted, 44% of those aged 35 to 44 years old agreed and just 32% of 55 – 64 years olds were impacted.

Mark Charman, CEO & Founder of GOOSE Recruitment noted “It has only been in the last decade that there has been a noticeable shift towards mental health. What was once a taboo subject no longer has such a prominent stigma attached to it, thanks to the emergence of social media and the growing coverage in mainstream media. Controversially we considered whether the younger pilot's mental health had been more affected than older pilots or whether they are simply more comfortable talking about it in their generation. Are older pilots aware enough of what mental health is and are they happy to talk about it, or are they simply just more resilient than younger pilots? After all, this is not the first significant event in aviation history they have had to go through.”

When we analysed the data to compare the different groups of employment types and the impact of the pandemic on their mental health, we saw no noticeable differences in the levels of those affected. However, we received some notable commentary from pilots.

Employed pilots whose mental health had been impacted by the pandemic

  • “A messy schedule creates a very disorganised mind which is sometimes an issue at work. Applying some specific procedures needs good mental health. I wouldn’t be so impacted if I knew I could quit and find another job quickly. The impact of the pandemic means I have no idea how long I’ll be stuck in this company and this is what is affecting me the most.”

  • “Working in a foreign country while my wife and children are trapped in our home country, means I have not seen them for five months and I am not likely to see them for another nine months. This is not through choice but due to multiple countries having 14-day quarantine periods, my employer taking away all annual leave owing (five weeks) and having my salary cut in half.”

Unemployed pilots whose mental health had been impacted by the pandemic

  • “I am not in the right state of mind to fly an aeroplane like before.”

  • “I was depressed as I saw my flying career disappearing and there was nothing I could do about it.”

  • “In my 30-year aviation career, I have dealt with pressure, stress etc on the job but I could always determine or direct an outcome. This pandemic has left me completely dependent on the government’s decisions. I have lost control and I don’t like it.”

  • “My partner and I are both pilots and we both lost our jobs. We’ve been forced to sell our house. It’s been extremely stressful.”

Furloughed pilots whose mental health had been impacted by the pandemic

  • “The amount of stress and anxiety the pandemic has caused me has permanently scarred my outlook on life.”

  • “Added stress, life plans have had to change, as a single income household it has put an enormous amount of pressure on us all.”

  • “I am very concerned about how I will be able to fund my family and retain my home due to the lack of alternative employment prospects. The unexpected shock of instant furlough in March, followed by a notice of redundancy and loss of income with ongoing long-term financial commitment is a constant worry.”

We continued this line of research to allow pilots to pick the top three words or phrases that best captured their state of mind.

Understandably, the top answer was ‘worried and anxious’ with 41% of pilots feeling this way. Concerns over COVID-19, job security and unemployment, make it natural that many would note this as a concern. Notably, first officers were more worried and anxious than captains were.

38% of pilots felt ‘frustrated’. The pandemic has been difficult to control and has spread across the world, a pilot cannot determine the outcome of how it impacts their flying. Pilots are used to being in the sky, and the decline in travel and flights means that they can be stuck at home with no imminent news of when they can take off again.

What was positive is that 31% felt optimistic despite this survey being conducted in October 2020. We predict that the news in November 2020 of the vaccine for COVID-19, will have certainly elevated the pilot community’s sense of optimism further.

For the last question about mental health and well-being, we asked what impact the pandemic had on pilots overall. The top answer to this question was that 35% of pilots felt it had made them consider changing their careers. Significantly, that means over a third of pilots are not sure if they want to carry on being a pilot. It was the pilots in the older age groups; 35 to 44 years olds (42%), 45 to 54 year olds (40%) and 55 to 64 year olds (47%) who were the most likely to be considering changing their career. With age, often comes experience and there is an element of risk of losing the most experienced pilots in the marketplace.

“Whilst a reduction in the number of pilots right now may not have an immediate impact on the operations of airlines, we predict that if this percentage of pilots were to hang up their wings, pilot recruitment teams are going to have a tough time ahead. Airlines will potentially need to start planning for the future fallout now,” said Charman.

On a positive note over a quarter of pilots felt that the pandemic had made them stronger and more resilient than ever before.

Charman said “A situation like this can quite literally induce ‘fight or flight’. We were pleased to see that 28% of pilots have been able to improve their resilience in such a difficult time. That couldn’t have been easy with all the uncertainty that we have seen.”

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