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Tag: COVID-19

Preparing for the post-COVID job market

As the airlines begin to regroup to adapt to the new realities of a COVID-19 world, pilots who are trying to get into the industry must surely be confused and even discouraged, which is perfectly understandable.

But the world still needs airlines, and airlines still need pilots, and low-time pilots still need jobs. There is no sugar-coating the fact that low-time pilots will be delayed in getting that first job and those precious FAR 121 turbine hours. But those opportunities will come.

For now, you need to keep your applications up to date, current, and accurate. You also need to stay in touch with your network and follow up any rumors to cut through to the facts and truth of what is going on. Bad information is acidic, and it won’t do you any good at all. Seek out the truth, and keep your ears to the ground for opportunities and openings.

In the interim, fly as often as you can, and if you’re a CFI, look for any teaching opportunities that might arise. There may not be many, but it may not be as bad as you might think. You can also look for opportunities to take airplanes up for owners just to fly them, and if you can work a deal to get an airplane to fly on the cheap, this would be the time to build some hours and stay current.

What you can’t do is just give up. Even if you have to shift gears into other work for a while, you need to keep your sights on your goals and dreams and continue in the direction you have worked so hard for. The industry has been through upheaval before—nothing like this, to be sure—and it will eventually turn the corner. The strong will survive, and there may even be some new entrants if carriers fail and leave assets to reuse. But people and cargo are going to need to be moved.

Even if you’re outside of the industry, you can work on currency and maintaining a list of good contacts while staying abreast of what is going on. Once the economies around the world get a foothold, the return to growth is likely to be steady, if not quick. Nobody knows when that will happen.

But you do have the choice to be ready versus being left behind.—Chip Wright

Navigating the COVID-19 airline world

I’ve been tooting the horn on progress in the airline industry for several years now, so you can imagine my shock and dismay at the developments in the economy since mid-March.

The C-19 pandemic has obliterated the prospects of a thriving industry that just a few months ago didn’t have enough pilots, airplanes, runways, or cheap fuel. Now, billions of dollars are being lost as the airlines are forced to park hundreds of airplanes, while the ones they are flying are largely empty.

I was asked recently what a day at work looks like now, and in a word, it’s surreal. I haven’t flown in three weeks because my trips have either been cancelled, or I can’t get to work because there are no flights.

When I was last there, the airports were empty. I’ve seen terminals that had more people in them at 3 a.m. than I’m seeing at 3 p.m. There are more employees than passengers. Restaurants are closed or have a limited menu. The retail shops are completely locked up.

You don’t realize how big even the smallest terminals are until you see them completely empty. Miles of security line barriers look silly and out of place now. The TSA personnel are bored to tears. Some flights are so empty that the gate agents don’t even use the PA system to announce boarding. I’ve had as few as 10 people on one of my own flights, and I’ve ridden on flights of multiple carriers that only have one paying passenger on board.

For years, I’ve had to endure periodic memos and initiatives on saving fuel and being on time to minimize clogging up either airspace or taxiways. Saving fuel now consists of carrying an extra 30,000 pounds—up to five hours’ worth—because the fuel farm at the hub has too much fuel and can’t store any more. Never in my career did I see that coming.

When the flights are only carrying a few people, it’s natural to want to push back 20 to 30 minutes early, but we’re being asked not to because of busy gate space. That sounds laughable, but the issue is real. So many airplanes have been grounded that some airports are out of room to store them. Many are stored at the gates, and airlines are minimizing the number of gates they are using. So, being early is still a problem.

Some large hubs are using runways to store airplanes. Right now this isn’t a problem, but it could be. Not only might the runways be needed, but airplanes are so big that if you need to move the one in the middle of a row of twenty, it could literally take all day to rejuggle everything.

As I sit here, the outlook on bookings isn’t good. The airlines that took CARES Act funding have to maintain staffing through the end of September, but based on what we see now, there is likely to be a bloodbath of furloughs come October. It will take some time to work through all of the pilots, since there will be so much training involved.

The feeling is that the flying public needs to regain confidence in travel, and they are looking for one of four things to happen: a treatment, a cure, a vaccine, or herd immunity. None of those are looking great right now, though a vaccine may be closer than we had hoped.

The other piece of this pie is that people need to have something to fly to. The Florida amusement parks are talking about staying closed until 2021, and restaurants will take a while to return to normal, either in capacity or on the menu. Food shortages are possible as well.

This is going to be a challenging recovery. Two airlines—Trans States and Compass, both under the Trans States Holdings umbrella—have gone out of business, as has Jet Suites. Overseas, South African, and Flybe have shut down. Others are likely to follow, and all of the legacy carriers in the United States have acknowledged that they will be substantially smaller come fall. It’s clear that they are now hoping to save the holiday travel seasons. But with billions in debt, soon to be made worse, it’s possible that there will be some more consolidation.

On the positive side, governments at all levels are doing everything they can to help keep the global economy alive. There is a clear goal of trying to let the economy regain some traction in hopes that it restarts relatively smoothly, if not quickly. Only time will tell if that’s going to work.

So what is a prospective pilot to do? Some things are simple: keep applications up to date, making especially sure they are accurate. Stay in touch with your network. Fly when you can, and at least stay legal. If you can provide any aid to those in need with an airplane, do so. And most important, stay healthy. Odds are the airlines are going to offer early retirement packages to senior pilots, and a number of them will jump on the opportunity. That will move things along, especially since retirements are just now picking up.

There will be some “right-sizing” at the regionals as well, and it will bear watching to see exactly how they retool their operations. But there will be room for opportunities for the RJs as well, since they can go to cities with lower demands and help restore a market for their partners. In other cities, they can hold the fort until the majors can bring in larger equipment.

We’ve all heard that we will recover from this, and we will. But it will take time, patience, and fortitude. But a recovery will happen.—Chip Wright

Maintain your Attitude during COVID-19 using the Big Three

There are huge psychological and physical challenges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. My experience as a psychotherapist for over 25 years has led me to believe that we need to implement what I call The Big Three to break out of the resultant stress response.  Right now we are in the “Messy Middle”. This article will define the three overarching themes and concrete steps you can take to make your life better.

1: Predictability, Schedule, and Sameness

Humans need schedule and pace in their lives. Most pilots are uniquely goal and reward driven. When the goal or reward has been removed/postponed, mental and emotional health can suffer. Go to bed and get up on time. Take a shower and get dressed in your real clothes. If you normally go out for Taco Tuesday or Friday night pizza, still keep the schedule. Order take-out from one of your local restaurants [who could use the support] or create some new cooking at home traditions.

Get sweaty 30 minutes a day: exercise, dancing, walking. There are many online resources for movement [yoga, strength, cardio, meditation]. If you can get out of the house safely, bundle up and get out. Use your balcony or backyard as a tool for fresh air and perspective.

2: Light at the end of the Tunnel, Positivity, Optimism

We are by nature social creatures. We need our tribe. The second theme is to look for light at the end of the tunnel and focus on small positive changes that are happening right now.

Social Connections : One of the benefits of slowing down the pace of life is the ability to now reach out and connect with those we love around the world.

Make sure to maintain your social connections using telephone, Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp, or Zoom. If you are a grandparent, aunt or uncle consider using technology to teach a video homeschool lesson to your grandchild, niece or nephew. Most likely you will get a lot of gratitude from the parent, and the child will get the benefit of having a fresh “teacher” on the other end of the video camera.

Goals: Pick a new goal and work actively towards it. Daily small moves will help you meet your goal and give you forward momentum. If your goal is aviation-related, there are many online schools offering deep discounts, or perhaps even free courses.

Sense of humor/Benefit of the doubt: Try to maintain a good sense of humor during these times. We are all living and operating in some uncharted territory, which might give rise to increased anxiety and irritability. Give your partner, kids or work mates the benefit of the doubt, that they aren’t doing what they are doing just to upset you.

Expect boundary testing and behavior problems with children. Try to meet those challenges with grace and a sense of humor.

Many folks are experiencing a grief reaction in this crisis. Since it is hard to really know what is going on for someone else, either give him or her grace or ask.

3: Personal Control over your Environment

Make sure that you are paying attention to each of the five senses daily in a way that is healthy. Eat the best food you can. Make sure to drink enough fluids. Avoid over-drinking. One of my clients admitted to getting pretty drunk at an online “Virtual Cocktail” party. She said that drinks were free, there was no social pressure about how many cocktails she had, and before you know it she woke up with a big hangover.

For years I have suggested creating a Comfort Kit.  Pick any sort of container for your kit, the more mobile the better. Consider each of your senses and load up your kit with your favorite taste, smell, feeling, sound, movement, touch and sight. Think about making one for your kids or grandkids. When we control our environment and use a comfort kit, we are more likely to feel a sense of flexibility, relaxation and calm.

Space: Space has been a subject of interest with many of my clients. One suggestion is that each person in the home has some sort of personal private space. We are social creatures, but we do need time to be ourselves. Sometimes you might have to be a little creative, like taking yourself for a drive in your car.

Morning and Evening Brief: Check your trusted media sources on COVID-19 in the morning and again in the evening. Do not saturate yourself with 24/7 news exposure. It is also a good idea to keep your children’s exposure to media to a minimum. It might be helpful to look for positive stories in the media.

Volunteer: Find a way to contribute to the greater good through helping others. There are many non-contact ways to help your community. Perhaps you could use your airplane to fly PPE or blood products. Consider a Pilots n Paws flight to get a cat or pup to their forever home.

Spiritual and Mental Health: Reach out to your faith or mental health community to get added support during the isolation.

If you feel like your mood, sleep, appetite or energy are on a downward spiral more days than not, it is time to reach out to your local licensed mental health counselors.

Many years ago I wrote an article for AOPA Pilot about mental wellbeing. Take a moment to read it and do some self-assessment.

https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2012/april/pilot/bouncing-back

We will all get through this together. I am looking forward to the day where we get back to a sense of “normal”. Using the tips listed every day will help us survive these challenging times.  We will come out stronger and healthier than we went in.

Jolie Lucas makes her home on the Central Coast of CA with her mini-Golden, Mooney. Jolie is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot working on her commercial and multi-engine. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter. Jolie is a nationally published aviation writer. Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Weathering the C-19 pandemic, part 1

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a great reminder of how interconnected the world economies are. For airline employees, this has been like reliving the post-9/11, SARS, and the Great Recession all at once.

In 24 years of airline flying, I have never seen anything remotely like this. On my last couple of trips, I flew so few people that if I consolidated all of the passengers on one trip, I’d be lucky to fill one airplane. I certainly wouldn’t need more than two.

Aviation has always been a topsy-turvy industry—one that, until a few years ago, had lost more money than it had ever made. Profits really only became a sure thing after 2012, as the economy rebounded and airlines began to a la carte the pricing model after realizing that they had been giving away the store for decades. In the last few years, employees were able to reap the benefits of this with record amounts of profit-sharing, and for pilots, record levels of compensation after so many years of subpar pay (especially at the regionals).

What we have seen since the end of February has been a gut punch, to say the least. It should also bring home a point that is easy to forget when times are good: Never, ever live at or beyond your means. No matter what you make, especially as a pilot, you should always live some degree below that, and put the difference into the bank or into a debt reduction plan.

There is no telling yet what this will do to jobs across the industry. The stimulus bill will provide a bit of a bridge to get employees through the summer, but two airlines have already shut down (Trans States and Compass, both owned by the same holding company), and as I write this at least one other (Miami Air) has filed for bankruptcy, with speculation about others doing the same. The majors are doing everything they can to avoid any furloughs, but they are all offering early separation packages, which almost always means that furloughs are imminent.

The advice offered here is true for anyone, but some industries are more vulnerable than others, and airlines are among the worst. It’s often said that when the economy gets a cold, the airlines get the flu. That said, here are some suggestions for those new to the industry to consider moving forward:

Create your own safety net. Save as much cash as you can, and not just for a C-19 event. You may need to take a pay cut to further your career or to move. You may get sick or injured. Money in the bank is the first line of defense against any kind of economic uncertainty.

Avoid the captain house. Buy smaller than you might want when the time comes so that the mortgage is always affordable. Pay it off early. Not only will the lack of a mortgage give you great peace of mind, it will also free up some cash flow that you can save, invest, or put toward other debt. When my previous carrier went out of business, I was nearly sick at the thought of losing my house during the recession, when prices were bottoming out and neighbors were filing for bankruptcy or just walking away. I was able to keep my home, and now it is paid for, and the difference in my mindset as a result is night and day.

Eliminate debt. Better yet, avoid it altogether if you can, but if you have student loans or credit card debt, make it a priority to pay them down and pay them off. Don’t borrow for vacations. Pay your car off early and drive it for several years while you pay yourself what you were paying for a car loan so that you can pay cash (or nearly so) for the next car.

Invest in yourself. This is a two-pronged approach. Create a fallback plan to make a living if your lose your job or the industry craters around you. If possible, stay in that line of work part time. A friend of mine is a computer programmer, and his flying income supplements his code-writing, not the other way around. Another pilot became a physician’s assistant during the last downturn and practices on the side. Others have gone to law school. A recent captain I flew with owns several franchises. All of them can live off that other income.

Secondarily, put more money into your 401(k) and IRAs than you think you can afford. Mandatory retirement will be here sooner than you can imagine, and since we are living longer, you need to save for a retirement that might be longer than your working career, especially if you have a medical issue that grounds you.

Finally, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Be realistic about various scenarios, and be careful with your major life decisions and the money you plan to spend. Make sure that your spouse and family are on board with financial conservatism. In the long run, they will thank you for it, and you will sleep better at night.—Chip Wright