In early February, Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific furloughed approximately 27,000 of its employees and cut 30 percent of its capacity. Less than two weeks ago, Korean Air announced that it could be pushed over the brink of bankruptcy due to an 80 percent cut in their international capacity. Compass Air, a regional feeder to America’s largest mainline carriers, announced it would be closing its doors on Twitter. British Airways has threatened layoffs, and Lufthansa Group announced it would fly roughly 40 aircraft of its fleet of over 700.
Two months after a government rescue, British carrier FlyBe collapsed and entered administration. American Airlines announced the early retirement of its Boeing 757 and 767 fleets. Virgin Atlantic is also sending its A340-600 fleet to an early demise in the desert. Delta Airlines moved several twin-aisle airliners in mass exodus to rest at Pinal Airpark, awaiting their return to service at a later and uncertain date. Boeing is seeking $60 billion in aid, as the fallout of the 737MAX coupled with a more sinister threat burns through $13.8 billion.
It’s been a hard landing into the year of 2020 for the world’s aviation industry, as thousands find themselves out of their jobs seemingly overnight. Others sit and wait, wondering if their job will be axed next. Today, the American airline industry seeks at least $60 billion in aid and bailouts from the US government. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) laments negative impacts valued at at least $63 billion, though the current state of air travel implies that damages could reach as much as $113 billion.
Waking up daily and wondering which airline is next has become nearly routine. This week, I read a heartbreaking farewell written by a Compass Air pilot, who has called this soon-to-be bygone company his home for almost three years. COVID-19 has caused immeasurable harm worldwide, adding to a long and complex history of the aviation industry. From the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act to the September 11th attacks, the industry has seen it all.
The current state of the aviation industry is deeply upsetting to someone like myself, as I watch friends ponder the uncertainty of their futures (and my own, to an extent). Our industry has taken a swift and brutal hit not seen since the aftermath of 9/11 and the post-Deregulation Act era of the early 1980s, where large-scale bankruptcies and mergers soon followed. Watching COVID-19 wreak havoc within our industry so dramatically has been disquieting, and has quashed any semblance of positivity.
Amidst a seemingly hopeless and increasingly troublesome international crisis, I have witnessed hope. Pilots of fallen airlines have been offered free resume reviews, recommendations, and interviews by industry colleagues. Airlines are standing together, providing a new contagion— unity.
In spite of everything, I am optimistic that the pilots of now-departed airlines will return to the cockpit with an organization that not only continues their fulfilling careers, but values them. I am optimistic that troubled airlines will be given a new lease on life. I am optimistic that the metal birds sitting idly in the desert will soon carry millions of passengers once more. I am optimistic that the millions of us in this great industry we call home will find peace and stability once more.
May we all find the courage to continue with our journeys as we seek bluer skies and tailwinds.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” –Winston Churchill