More than a third of commercial pilots are still not flying for a living – and one in five remains unemployed – as the pandemic continues to take its toll on the profession, according to The Pilot Survey 2022 carried out by specialist aviation and pilot recruitment agency GOOSE and FlightGlobal. The survey polled 1,743 professional pilots about their work status and attitudes to their career, almost two years into the deepest crisis in aviation history. It shows that, although prospects are much better than at the height of the crisis, for many the situation remains bleak. The poll also paints a picture of a profession in which job insecurity is rife and confidence low, and which most pilots would not recommend to young people.
The situation is a slight improvement on the previous year’s survey, which found that well over half of all flight crew were out of work or furloughed, or had taken jobs in another industry. According to the latest survey, 62 percent of pilots are “employed and currently flying”, up from just 43 percent a year ago. The proportion of “unemployed” has fallen from 30 percent to 20 percent, while 6 percent are on furlough, compared with 17 percent in the previous survey. Although 2021 did not see the prolonged lockdowns in much of the world that grounded the industry in mid-2020, ongoing border closures, quarantine rules, and other measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 continued to block aviation’s recovery.
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The poll took place just before the emergence of the Omicron variant, which led to further restrictions on travel, although many of these are now being lifted again. For some out-of-work pilots, the prospect of returning to the cockpit comes with concerns. Almost a quarter of unemployed pilots – 24 percent – are “not at all confident” about returning to flying, with this rising to four in 10 in North America.
Mandatory vaccinations are a controversial issue. The survey found that 68 percent think double vaccinations should be compulsory for all pilots, although this figure varies considerably by region. In North America, just 57 percent believe in it being mandatory, and 20 percent of pilots there remain not fully vaccinated, despite several airlines making this a condition of employment. For the industry as a whole, 90 percent of pilots say they have had both jabs.
Despite optimism about industry recovery, 61 percent state that they are “concerned” about job security. However, this is a vast improvement on last year, when 82 percent said they were worried. Even two years ago, when demand for flight crew was leading to a skills shortage, 52 percent of pilots reported that job security was a concern.
More pilots than last year – 56 percent compared with 54 percent – are considering changing jobs in the next 12 months, although this could be a sign of an improving jobs market as well as dissatisfaction with current employers. Thirty-seven percent of pilots say that, given their time again, they would not have become pilots – slightly up on the 36 percent who gave this answer a year ago. And a majority – 55 percent – say they would not recommend their career to young people. This has fallen from just 29 percent responding this way two years ago, before the pandemic.
However, there is some positivity, with 60 percent of pilots believing the sector will make a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels within two years, and a further 23 percent saying it will take a further 12 months. “Despite the downbeat mood, it is clear that pilots do look forward to aviation returning to the sort of activity we saw in 2019, sooner rather than later,” says Mark Charman, chief executive and founder of GOOSE Recruitment. “Pilots have remained resilient throughout a crisis that has made them adapt to new economic realities and re-evaluate what is important to them in their careers.”
According to Sophie Wild, divisional director at FlightGlobal, the pandemic has had a serious effect on the profession, financially and mentally. “It has been really important to hear from pilots to find out how this crisis has impacted them over almost two years, and how they feel about the future,” she said.