Wondering about COVID’s impact on pilot jobs? Is it that bad?
The full extent of the devastation is still unknown. But the situation is grim – and the outlook even worse. To date, over 18.000 pilot jobs are threatened or already permanently lost. This redundancy tracker illustrates the disastrous developments for pilots across Europe for those airlines where reliable information is available (last update: 14 Jan 2021).
The Corona crisis accelerated the demise of airlines, which were already struggling. In March, Flybe’s longstanding financial difficulties were exacerbated by the total halt of air travel due to COVID-19. The bankruptcy led to the loss of approx. 600 pilot jobs. COVID-19 is also cited as a contributing factor to the insolvency of Air Italy (212 jobs lost).
Norwegian, another airline in financial trouble, nearly escaped liquidation itself, but it did declare its crewing agencies bankrupt. Those were partly owned by Norwegian and served as a convenient setup to keep crew at arm’s length from the airline. As a result, approx. 1600 pilots became unemployed across bases in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Spain and the UK. All remaining pilot jobs in Norwegian are threatened currently. Layoffs at financially struggling airlines like Brussels Airlines or Braathens Regional are also expected. For Braathens, pilot jobs were axed already before the COVID crisis with 110 pilots “outsourced” to WDL Germany in April, and the remaining 130 pilot jobs are now threatened as the airline filed for bankruptcy protection in April. Other struggling airlines, like Alitalia, managed to secure government bailout packages and keep employees on payroll – for the time being.
As the recovery from the crisis will take a long time, more airlines will struggle, and the pace of layoffs will speed up. In June we’ve seen the bankruptcies LEVEL Europe (approx. 60) and SunExpress Deutschland, both owned by major parent groups.
Pilots on precarious atypical contracts and ‘self-employment’ set-ups were also amongst the first to see their contracts terminated already in March. Pre-COVID studies estimated that 1 out of 5 European pilots is on some sort of atypical employment contract. In a total pilot population of 65.000, that makes approx. 12.000 atypically employed pilots. Axing those atypical jobs does not require any prior consultation with unions. There are neither notification periods, nor unemployment benefits which could have required the airline to notify public authorities when terminating such jobs. So, it is safe to assume that the large majority of those 12.000 jobs have simply disappeared without a trace. Contractors at Wizz Air were in the first wave of redundancies in March, and reports e.g. from BUZZ pilots – Ryanair’s Polish subsidiary – show that BUZZ pilots across Central-Eastern Europe were among the most immediately and strongly affected.
As a result, this tracker does not include specific data about such atypically employed pilots who were dismissed or simply do not receive any flight hours anymore from their ‘client’ airline. Therefore, we factored in an overall and extremely conservative estimate of 6.500 atypically employed pilot jobs lost. This is 50% of the total, while a more realistic share might actually be close to 75-80%. Also, while there may be a flying job over the summer holiday season, for many of these pilots on broker agency and/or self-employment contracts there may simply be no need for their ‘flying services’ anymore in autumn, when their ‘client’ airlines reduce capacity again.
Unfortunately, a spate of redundancies of directly employed pilots is also looming. Many airlines have already declared thousands of jobs to be cut in the following months: 12.000 jobs at British Airways are at risk, 22.000 at Lufthansa, 7.000 SAS, 5.000 at KLM, 3.000+ Virgin Atlantic, 3.000 Ryanair, 4500 at easyJet. While the exact breakdown of job categories and countries are yet to be defined and negotiated, there is an expectation of at least 15-20% pilot jobs disappearing through such redundancies.
And while seemingly pilots in countries such as Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands may seem to be unaffected by job losses, the truth is that this will probably change. While currently, many of those countries introduced government supported ‘furlough’ schemes and ‘short work’ arrangements – incl. payroll support – conditional on protecting jobs – at least for a certain period of time, many more jobs will be lost once this protection period ends.
If you have reliable information about redundancies in your and/or other European airlines, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org