What was it like to be a pilot?

The dream job of a pilot was once upon a time: 15,000 jobs threatened or lost in Europe

When pilots are asked about their motivation, they often tell stories from their childhood when they already felt the fascination of flying. But the corona pandemic has badly affected the passionate and dream job, because the aviation industry was the first to be hit particularly hard and then also particularly lastingly. Thousands of pilots all over the world were thrown onto the road in one fell swoop, their perspective has been unclear for years.

“Actually, I could never have imagined that I would become unemployed as a pilot with a lot of flying experience,” says a former Air Berlin pilot. After 16 uninterrupted years in the cockpit, the 41-year-old had to register as unemployed for the first time this spring and is hoping to get back into the job. “Immediate retraining in another profession does not make sense at the moment from the point of view of the employment office either. And finally, I myself invested over 60,000 euros in my training and my job. That should not have been in vain. "

But the prospects are bleak: The European cockpit association ECA already has 15,000 threatened or lost pilot jobs in Europe. With an estimated 6,500 jobs, the largest share is accounted for by pilots who were already in insecure, atypical employment before the crisis. As with order gaps in industry, contract pilots had to go first.

The corona crisis is destroying the airlines' growth dogma. Customers can count on special offers in the short term - in the long term, with less service. Low-cost airlines and British lines should benefit.

In addition, there are those who suffer from airline bankruptcies such as Flybe, Air Italy or the German airline Walter (LGW). The Ryanair subsidiary Lauda brutally closed the bases in Stuttgart and Düsseldorf. When Norwegian was restructured, its crew agencies went bankrupt, and around 1,600 pilots initially lost their jobs with uncertain reinstatement.

Job losses at industry giants such as British Airways, Lufthansa, SAS, KLM or Easyjet have not yet been negotiated or postponed indefinitely with short-time working. According to Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr, 800 of the 5,000 pilot positions at the Lufthansa core company alone are on the brink. The pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) is still trying to prevent layoffs with wages and salaries and part-time rules.

There are only a few job alternatives in Corona times. So far, unemployed pilots have been able to easily find intermediate jobs in the aviation environment because they know the job and the processes at the airport. But there is currently a lull there too. “It's a small and closed system in which I work. The job market is manageable. In a way, you're a kind of specialist idiot, at least the pilot qualification is hardly recognized outside of aviation, ”complains the unemployed ex-Air Berliner.

The young pilots of the Lufthansa Group at the traditional flight school in Bremen feel left alone in the crisis. In July they protested in a fire letter against the renewed extension of the training break, warned the responsible Lufthansa Aviation Training GmbH for a variety of information on the validity of qualifications already acquired, asked about refresher courses and an extended deferral of their own contributions. Quite a few flight students are also considering jumping out of their training, but would like the assurance that they will be able to get back on board later.

What was once a dream job has become a job with an extremely uncertain future in the Corona crisis. The Bremen flight students warn Lufthansa that in the future it will not be possible to win over the best applicants with sophisticated social media campaigns or expensive marketing videos. Rather, what is needed is an "environment that inspires young people, encourages them and what they like to talk about well".

Fraport boss Schulte has a good relationship with Lufthansa despite the demand for fee reductions, calls for an extension of short-time work until summer 2022 and fears bankruptcies at German airports.

From the point of view of an experienced A380 captain, it is important to be patient first. “I would advise waiting for the next two years to see whether the industry starts up again. The really cool jobs are most likely to be found at large airlines with their own training. If you go to a flight school blindly, you run a high risk of failure. I've already seen a lot of suffering. ”The captain expects further reductions in social standards in the industry. "It becomes very difficult if you want to service your training loan of more than 100,000 euros with an initial annual salary of perhaps 30,000 euros gross."

The glamor factor of the big wide world has fallen by the wayside in the past few decades. “We often had time to take a look at the cities with other pilots or the cabin crew. Sometimes we celebrated too, ”reports a pilot in the“ anonymous job log ”of“ Spiegel ”from the golden days. Most of the standing days have long been eliminated from the rounds, the crews end up where they started in the morning, if possible every evening for cost reasons.

Fever measurements, mask compulsory, food from the bag - flying in times of Corona is reminiscent of stays in hospital. The restrictions could persist for a long time.

Even before Corona, the VC union advised those interested in the profession to come up with a plan B in addition to flying. Mentally, this is not easy for student pilots who have left thousands of competitors behind in rigorous selection processes. But the employer goes bankrupt too quickly or the medical fitness to fly is lost. A previous or integrated degree is therefore advisable, warns the VC.

The unemployed are examining their options. "I am quite flexible and ready to go abroad," says the former Air Berliner. “However, it should be a reliable airline with a safe environment in which you can live and, if necessary, commute. Due to Corona, it is currently very difficult to apply anywhere at all. Commuting is hard to think of at the moment. ”Sometimes, however, chance also helps. During a test of his skills, one of the man's colleagues came up with the idea of ​​becoming a physics teacher as a career changer.

more on the subject
The corona crisis is destroying the airlines' growth dogma. Customers can count on special offers in the short term - in the long term, with less service. Low-cost airlines and British lines should benefit. Read more about this here.

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