How one airline captain is coping with being grounded because of the coronavirus

Capt. Chris Brady, 55, is a longtime commercial airline pilot,
with some 15,000 hours under his belt. He flies for a large
European low-cost carrier. He typically jets around Europe for four
days of duty, followed by two to three days off at home in the
south of England.

Or at least he did, until last week.

“I’ve been asked to take three months of unpaid leave,”
he said. “But if it keeps the airline afloat, we’ll all do
it.”
It’s all part of the
massive disruption to the airline industry
because of the
COVID-19 pandemic. The consequences have just started to hit the
United Kingdom hard; most flights are grounded. Brady’s last was
Wednesday, a two-sector flight out and back between a London-area
airport and Malaga, repatriating tourists back to the U.K. from
Spain.
“It was a full load and the passengers were so grateful and
relieved,” he said in a phone interview. “Of course, there was
an edge to it, as we were exposing ourselves to the virus just by
operating the flight. We know that the air in the plane is drawn
from the outside and fresh every three minutes, but in the back of
your mind you’re thinking about those three minutes. The cabin
crew are in much closer contact with passengers, so my heart goes
out to them.”
On top of it all, it wasn’t a stress-free flight.
“About 30 minutes in, we received an ACARS message,” Brady
said, referring to a message from the airline printed out on the
flight deck. “It informed us that the Balearic Islands had closed
and that one of our alternate airport, Palma, was also closed. And
then 30 minutes passed, [and] we heard on the radio ATC informing a
flight to Morocco that the country had closed its airspace, and
‘What do you want to do, captain?’”
The captain of that flight said he would confer with his
company and sort it out.
“That’s two instances in short order, and you just feel
like the whole of Europe is closing down on you,” Brady
said.
Captain Chris Brady in the cockpit of an Airbus A320 at 40,000 feet (Courtesy of Chris Brady)Captain
Chris Brady in the cockpit of a Boeing 737 at 40,000 feet (Courtesy
of Chris Brady)
Back on terra firma, there wasn’t much relief, either.
“In the past week, there have been lots of changes.
Everything has been falling like dominoes. Domestic flying ground
to a halt, and of course the Prime Minister put the whole country
on lockdown. So now everything is grounded,” he said.
It’s not the first time Brady has dealt with economic
adversity in his flying career. He
started flying
while at Liverpool University, in a University
Air Squadron, a training unit of the Royal Air Force. He then
decamped to Florida for three months to get his civilian pilot’s
licenses. But when he got back to the U.K. in the early 1990s, a
recession had hit and no airline jobs were to be had, Brady
said.
Instead, he became a flying instructor and pilot examiner,
amassing some 3,000 hours in small piston aircraft, much more than
most. To jumpstart his career, he decided to pay for a
Boeing 737 type rating
out of pocket, which is atypical. The
£12,000 course was equivalent to his yearly salary. The airline
offering the course recognized his skill and
hired him as a Boeing 737 pilot
. He eventually became a
training captain with British Midland, a now-defunct airline.
(That’s where his Boeing 737
Technical Site
took root). Next, he found his way to a small
20-plane startup as a direct-entry captain. That startup has now
grown by leaps and bounds. (He’d rather keep the name of his
employer confidential.) 
But now, that airline isn’t flying. Neither are its pilots,
which has serious implications for remaining current. That’s the
industry term for keeping your skills fresh; there are strict rules
around it.
“In the U.K., you’re required to have a flight every 45
days, along with the six-month simulator check, and every two
years, a line check,” Brady said. “But now, with the halt of
operations, even the training captains risk going out of
currency.”
Airlines will likely have a ramp-up period to bring pilots
back up to currency, possibly based on their number of flight
hours, Brady said. New commercial airline pilots in Europe will
typically start with 200 hours of actual flying time, coupled with
a type rating in their airline’s aircraft of choice — most
often a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A320, the two most widely sold
jetliners.
“My advice to the first officers is to keep in touch with
the books and manuals. I imagine many of them are worried if they
will be re-employed at all after this passes. If we enter a
recession there will be less flying. And in the airlines, it’s a
last in, first out rule,” Brady said. “I imagine many are
dreadfully worried. It’s awful. Now, pilots are not going to be
the worst off in this economy. But new pilots will be quite
stressed, what with £100,000 of training debt around their
necks.”
Even senior and well-paid captains like him have to worry
about finances.
“I’ve been thinking about belt tightening now with the
prospect of no income for three months and maybe longer. So, no
unnecessary expenditures,” he said.

So what does he do with his time? Brady is now tending to
long-neglected DIY projects and tweaking the Boeing 737 site he
runs.

“The sun is shining and I’m painting my fence,” he said.
It’s the most time he’s had off in his career — except for an
injury where he “once put a chainsaw through my leg.”

I didn’t ask Capt. Brady for the details. But for an airline
pilot, an extended ground halt may be just as painful as that
injury.
Mike Arnot is the founder of Boarding Pass NYC, a New
York-based travel brand and a marketing consultant to airlines,
none of which are cited in this story.
Featured image: the cockpit of an Airbus A320neo, by JOSEP
LAGO/AFP/Getty Images

Source: FS – All-Travel destinations-News2
How one airline captain is coping with being grounded because of the coronavirus