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These days the before-and-after method is suitable not only for jokes on social media. Now this before-and-after is our new reality in light of the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermaths. Especially in aviation, the industry which has been hit most severely.
In the beginning of 2020, aviation was thriving. For the year of 2020, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) projected that the global airline industry will produce a net profit of $29.3 billion, while overall industry revenues will be near $872 billion.
In terms of passenger numbers, during 2020 it was estimated to reach 4.72 billion.
Not to omit and the long-term forecasts, many aviation companies were building their growth strategies based on Boeing’s outlooks on new aircraft deliveries and aviation personnel demand for the two upcoming decades.
According to the US aerospace giant, over the next 20 years, 804,000 new civil aviation pilots would have been needed to operate 44,040 newly delivered aircraft (50,660 total global fleet by 2038).
This way, before the crisis, we had exponentially growing orders for new aircraft, highly active deliveries and a long-standing problem related to the lack of competent pilots to operate new planes.
Mainly this revolutionary development was our before which in a matter of several weeks in March has begun turning into unprecedented and still gloomy after. What do we have now?
Commercial aviation is almost on lockdown. Borders of the majority countries closed, over 90% of the global fleet grounded, airlines on the edge of collapses and the global economy in deep recession.
But is the situation really so desperate? Let’s take a quick look.
What Would be the Future for Active Pilots?
No doubts, the crisis provoked by the coronavirus pandemic is still shaking the globe, and aviation in particular. Meanwhile, among the most affected aviation professionals are the pilots.
Since mid-March over 290,000 active pilots worldwide have been stuck at home with not much certainty as to when they will fly again. Now, in mid-May, there are already some positive signs indicating that travel restrictions would be eased soon.
Some borders have been re-opened, some are waiting for final decisions. This, in turn, means that a significant number of aviators will get back to work soon to satisfy although low, but still step by step recovering demand for air travel.
Agencies focusing on the recruitment of flight crew also confirm that now aviation is experiencing a temporary stop in hiring new pilots. Airlines are making all the efforts to stay afloat and will re-launch operations with reduced fleets securing working places primarily for their pilots, not the new ones.
For example, initially airBaltic plans to take off with only 22 aircraft instead of 38 planes that comprised the carrier’s fleet before the full grounding in March.
Ryanair has announced that in July it will re-launch 40% of its operations. Although the number is very ambitious, it says that definitely not the entire Boeing 737 fleet consisting over 450 aircraft, will be lifted.
Lufthansa Group, in turn, revealed that its three airlines, Lufthansa, Eurowings and SWISS, will restart services with a total fleet of 160 aircraft (before the crisis the three carriers operated the fleet of over 600 aircraft).
And these are only several operators out of hundreds which are cutting their capacity to adjust the business to the current demand.
Aviation will be smaller, and it is not that difficult to calculate that, possibly, more than half of active pilots will still remain furloughed during the summer season. But the passionate ones will definitely find their place in the cockpit again. And here is why.
One of the retired captains with an impressive 37-year background in commercial aviation explains that now is the time which will retain in the industry only the strongest this way leaving enough space and for new entrants, who are just at the beginning of their pilot training.
Firstly, the industry will be left by the pilots who had doubts over their job and the dynamism that aviation is full of. These will choose to follow other career paths and leave the industry on their own by providing the vacant seats in the cockpit to their colleagues.
Secondly, pilots are also ageing; thus, retirements are inevitable. Periodically, some older pilots will pass their duties to younger professionals, correspondingly, allowing less experienced aviators to get promoted.
And finally, aviation will make a great comeback to growth. Sooner or later.
Aviation Will Recover as It Always Did
At present, we cannot provide any concrete numbers or forecasts because such have not been developed yet. The impacts of the crisis are not fully determined, and estimations are rather hypothetical and changing several times a day.
The major part of aviation experts and analysts almost unanimously claim that the current situation is the worst in decades. It is so, indeed, although aviation survived through many turbulences, including the Gulf War in 1991, the Asian financial crisis in 1997, September 11 attacks in 2001, SARS in 2003, the economic crisis in 2008-2009 and even the Icelandic ash cloud in 2010.
All these disasters had an impact on demand for air travel, all these lead to certain transformations in the industry and left many lessons to be taken into account to prevent damaging repetition.
However, worth highlighting that all were united by two common patterns: each happened unexpectedly, and each ended with a successful recovery afterwards. The current crisis has also been a bolt out of the blue.
And there is no doubt that it will recover. Even though IATA points out that the recovery might be slow and airlines estimate that pre-crisis passenger levels could be expected only by 2024. Yet, everyone nods in agreement: aviation will return to growth.