THE LOST EFFECT OF COVID-19
Aviation has always been what brought people together. And on occasion the escape code for some! We see the effects of the virus on aviation and cannot imagine what impact this will have on aviation families and small businesses. Let’s look at Africa. And I am mostly referring to Southern Africa. On a third world continent travel and particularly low-cost travel is of the utmost importance. In order to improve and build a countries economy, we need movement. Especially air travel. South Africa’s flag carrier South African Airways has been struggling financially for years and have been cutting routes even before the outbreak of COVID-19. With the president of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa closing the country’s borders, South African Airways was restricted to 1 domestic route Johannesburg to Cape Town. With the country operating at least 4 other domestic carriers, it is safe to say SAA was struggling. The impact of this was simple, nearly all SAA employees would start to look at different jobs in the aviation industry causing an overflow of resume’s flooding the market in Southern Africa. The effect was felt worst by pilots. With upgrades being put on holt and interviews stalled what was about to happen to pilots started lurking through the cabin windows.
With too many pilots already in the market place even before COVID-19 as a result of SAA, when South Africa rightfully went on lockdown and praise be given to the governments for acting swiftly and trying to protect their people from the start, aviation jobs now got cut not only in half but almost by 70%. This forced companies from all over Southern Africa to start retrenching employees adding to the number of skilled workers sitting at home. Financially companies that did not have cargo flying contracts were hit the worst and went into a complete shutdown. If we look at the skies over Southern Africa the only aircraft you see are cargo flights. And even these flights are limited and scares. The employees left at the companies were forced to take pay cuts. Only getting paid half your salary is better than being left in a market with thousands of other skilled employees just like you with no company hiring! So, aviation employees were faced with no choice. Don’t miss understand me, the companies retrenching and cutting pay had all the right to do so and it is understandable. They had no income! Like the rest of the world if an aircraft in Africa stand on the ground it loses the company money, and most aircraft are paid with debt assuming it will get paid off because it will live in the sky!
Across the board, people got retrenched. But aviation is different, specifically pilots. Pilots need to be VALID and CURRENT. Every pilot in the commercial industry needs to do an Instrument renewal test every 12months. This is done to check that the pilot is still up to date and skilled for his/her job. Companies have what we call OPC’s or PPC’s (Operators Proficiency checks and Pilot Proficiency checks) Every pilot has to pass an OPC every 6 months to stay current and valid. If a pilot fails one of these checks, they get taken offline and until they pass the test, they also don’t get paid. Why is this important to know? In Africa, pilot salaries are, to say the least, below par. Pilots not flying for one of the established larger airlines get paid less than most of your normal day jobs. Meaning the pilots now in the unemployment market need to stay current on their own terms. Pilots living and working in Southern Africa that I have talked to and still talk to regularly say their biggest concern is when the time comes for airlines to start employing pilots again, they will have to apply with valid licenses again. This can cost thousands. Not only is keeping your license valid one of the big concerns, keeping yourself and your flying skills up there with the pilots still flying will also be a challenge. Especially if paying for simulator training while unemployed is out of the question.
Talking to the pilots in Southern Africa meaning South Africa, Namibia, Botswana etc. One thing became clear, surviving this pandemic becomes more difficult every day. This pandemic is taking the coffee out of the coffee shop and the skill out of the pilot at the same time. I only wish that when the time comes for Airlines opening their recruitment doors, we haven’t already lost thousands of great pilots down in Africa.
– A story told by my good friend Morné, who flies Cargo planes for a living in South Africa!
April 19, 2020