PILOT’S VIEW: Words of advice for out-of-work aviators

In the wake of Emirates’ second round of staff cuts, which saw 600 pilots laid off on Tuesday, retired long-haul pilot, aviation author and industry commentator, Steve Ford, shares words of advice and support with out-of-work aviators
File image.
File image.

While pilots will recognise “energy management” as being synonymous with managing the inertia of an aeroplane, never has a skill set been more important to aviation professionals, be it aircrew or ground staff, than today.

Right now, in thousands of kitchens and in thousands of homes, difficult conversations are being played out between partners and families. Redundancy.

I have experienced that sickening feeling, the implosion, pain and let`s be honest, the overwhelming frustration and anger of feeling let down.

In 1990 I found myself completing a type rating with 2 hours 45 minutes in my log book on the DC. 10, the very day my employer announced they were going to cease trading in 30 days’ time. It was not the first time I had experienced this and at the age of 30 my CV was beginning to look like an airline directory.

So what have I learnt in the last 40 years and, more importantly, what can I share?

First and foremost, the airline industry always has and always will, regardless of the reasons, remain a cyclical business. It is as we all know very vulnerable to outside influences.

As aviation professionals, if we want to ride it through as a career, we have to accept that we can be chief pilot on the Friday and junior birdman/woman on the Monday. Carrying a degree of humility through your career goes a long way; nobody, after all, is immune.

Resilience is without a doubt the key to longevity. You have to have a degree of sheer grit and determination. Believe in yourself.

The accountants call it “fiscal security”. To you and me it means money in the bank. Sitting on cash savings of at least three months minimum is critical. If you can sit for a year on cash reserves for example, it immediately takes the pressure off not only yourself but the family.

The single biggest thing I did that worked for me was to have a mind-set at all times that it could end tomorrow. While that sounds pessimistic, it allowed important decisions like bigger houses, bigger cars and toys to be kept in perspective. After all, we all attend medicals with trepidation of the unknown; arguably we should look at aviation the same way.

Thousands of young men and women followed a dream and channelled not only their passion, but significant amounts of personal financial investment, only to have it taken away.

Or have they?

There will be those that walk away from aviation. But those with the grit and determination I have already alluded to will see it through.

As hard as it sounds and as difficult as it may be, channelling energy into the right areas now will be time well spent.

Everyone has different personal circumstances and there is no tick-box solution. However, if you have the support of family and friends, embrace them. If you feel you need time to collect your thoughts, take it.

Managing your energy in positive areas and limiting time spent on online forums or even watching the news is time well spent.

If there is one thing I have learnt that I implore you hold onto, is that the airline industry will bounce back – it always does. However, you have to be on the pitch to stay in the game and remember: you are a global player!

About the author

Steve Ford is the author of 20 West, a journey through six decades of turbulent change within aviation, and Flight Envelopes, philosophy of flight as viewed from within the aviation and aerospace industry.

Born in Portsmouth in the UK, Ford trained as a professional aircraft engineer and holds aircraft engineering licences both sides of the Atlantic, having served a full apprenticeship with British Caledonian Airways. He joined BCal in 1978. Full independent Airline Transport Pilot’s licences, again from both sides of the Atlantic, coupled with a solid engineering background have provided extensive opportunities to exercise the two disciplines; with British Aerospace and from 1993 to 2016 with Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Now living in West Sussex, nestled against the South Downs National Park, Ford continues to fly and is adamant that he continues to learn...

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