New research highlights impact of COVID-19 pandemic on UK pilots

Dr Simon Bennett preparing to fly with the National Police Air Service on an operational mission

The University of Leicester’s Civil Safety and Security Unit has carried out a study highlighting the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on UK pilots.

The study found that some pilots felt their performance on returning to work was not satisfactory and that morale across the industry had been impacted by inadequate Government and employer actions.

More than 57% of those questioned rated the Government’s performance in safeguarding the interests of commercial aviation during the crisis as ‘inadequate’. 

Fourteen respondents (out of 223) scored their first duty (flight deck or simulator) after returning to work in the range 1 – 4, 1 being ‘unsatisfactory’ (and 10 being ‘satisfactory’). 

The research, based on a survey and in-depth interviews with pilots, looked at how being furloughed affected flight crew competencies, including retention of learned routines, faith in officialdom, faith in employers and pilots’ general outlook. 

The Unit’s director, Dr Simon Bennett, conducted the research with the assistance of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA).

Dr Bennett observed: “Politicians, regulators, airline boards and other actors need to reflect on their actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, canvass the opinions of front-line staff and work to restore, at the very least, the status quo ante.” 

BALPA head of flight safety, Joji Waites, said: “This research is really useful in helping us understand the effect furlough has had on pilots.

“It is clear that periods of inactivity and being away from the flight deck have a detrimental effect on pilot performance and we need stakeholders across the industry to really understand this and ensure that flight safety is always a number one priority.

“It is also clear that the handling of COVID-19 by the government and employers has impacted morale amongst the flying workforce.

“This needs to be addressed and BALPA will continue to work with the government and airlines as the voice of pilots.” 

Dr Bennett’s full report can be found here. A summary of the report can be found here.