Airlines have a tough task keeping thousands of grounded pilots sharp and ready to take-off instantly if and when the coronavirus-forced air travel bans end after months.
Thousands of pilots sitting at home away from the cockpit is a dangerous proposition for Airlines around the world.
Countries across the world have closed their skies to limit country to country COVID-19 transmission. From Emirates to EasyJet, airspace closures have forced more than 55 major airliners to ground entire fleets of hundreds of Boeing and Airbus airliners. Others have less than 10 percent of airplanes currently flying. That means the majority of the world’s around 300,000 commercial pilots are sitting at home for almost a month now with the coronavirus induced air travel bans.
Not just that, most see months of uncertainty ahead. With the pandemic peaking across continents, pilots have no concrete idea when they will find themselves in the cockpit again. That has given birth to a crucial problem for the airline industry to tackle once economies start rolling again. For airlines, having their pilots raring and ready to take-off immediately after a long haul of being grounded, is a dangerous prospect in a profession where currency and freshness of skills are pivotal to the safety of thousands.
Highlights! Will Pilots Remember How To Fly When Air Travel Opens Again In The Post-Coronavirus Era?
- The problem with pilots sitting idle away from the cockpit for a told time
- Razor-sharp ready to fly a sophisticated modern as an when air travel bans are revoked
- What Aviation regulators and airlines around the world are doing to this end
- The challenges in refreshing thousands of pilots – expiring licenses, simulator shortages and safety requirements
Pilots are not used to sitting idle
World over, professional pilots are constantly on the more. Most have a flight every alternate day which helps them keep their muscle memory fresh and senses sharp. However, most pilots are currently not required in the near future with the halt of passenger travel. So, many airlines are sending their pilots on unpaid leaves. Far worse, some airlines are even terminating contracts of pilots, cost-cutting and bracing to start from scratch again once countries and continents recover from the pandemic.
Quite literally. A pilot’s skillset has a lot to do with cognition. So for them, it is imperative to remember the countless procedures linked to flying the airplane. Modern commercial airliners are sophisticated, information technology-driven machines where most functions are automated. Contrary to what common sense would try to suggest, flying an automated aircraft is an extremely meticulous job. A pilot is supposed to be ahead of the plane. That means having all procedures on fingertips with razor-sharp senses.
The problem of staying fresh
The times today are unprecedented, but in the pre-pandemic world too, pilots don’t just relax at home. The automated modern airliners of today require pilots to follow strict protocols. Pilots manage the flight deck with several buttons to push and checklists to be readout. Therefore, professional pilot needs to keep brushing up on their knowledge about the plane they are certified to fly.
For this purpose, pilots use a variety of methods. These range from the traditional paper trainer method (wall poster to practice flight procedures) to new-age online training tools and PC flight simulators. Several airlines are also providing their grounded pilots online education tools which they can even track, thus creating a monitored work from home environment.
And current – in aviation terms
Add to that the fact that the profession requires different certifications and training courses that pilots undergo, all of which are only valid for a set period. In a scenario where these lockdowns continue for several months, thousands of pilots globally will have expired medical certifications and flying licenses. International Civil Aviation Organization has asked aviation regulators in member countries to be flexible in their approaches to adhering to obligations such as pilot licenses and certificates.
In a bid to ease some of the stress, several national aviation regulators like the US’ FAA are deferring dates of license expirations that happen withing the lockdown period and hence were impossible to be renewed on time. EU Aviation Safety Agency wants “detailed pilot training” plans from airlines to get further extensions.
Simulator rush ahead
While online tools help pilots, flight simulator software on laptops cannot fill in for the feel of a real cockpit. For that type of currency, aviation regulators and airlines require pilots to have recency – recent non-commercial flying credentials. This happens with the help of flight simulators. Most countries lack enough flight simulator training centers. This makes it an impossible ask to cater to the volume of pilots who will need re-training if the coronavirus pandemic forces air travel bans for months.
Around the world, most simulator facilities that train pilots are closed. And if and when they re-open, another issue will arise in a shortage of instructors and examiners to conduct checks. Airlines are already dreading a scenario where they face a backlog of simulator slots which slows their rostering of pilots back in the air. Airlines will have a tough time getting back to operations instantly with the majority of their pilots waiting in queue for simulation checks and currency in safety drills like the fire and smoke training, first aid courses and crew resource management training.