With the majority of planes and crews grounded during the COVID-19 crisis, how do airlines prepare their aircraft and pilots to take to the skies as the situation eases? Air France has set up a scheme involving simulator training to keep pilots’ skills at the highest levels for their return to the cockpit.
Air France pilots prepare to return to the skies
The COVID-19 pandemic has grounded aircraft and crews around the world. As we begin to emerge from the crisis and the restrictions on air travel are gradually eased, it’s not just the planes that need to be made ready. Pilots also need to keep their certifications current.
Air France is gradually resuming services and expects to be operating at around 15% of its usual capacity by the end of June. To maintain the highest skill levels of its pilots, the airline has set up a cockpit reintegration scheme for those who have not flown during the pandemic.
During the transitional period, pilots will train in one of the airline’s 16 simulators, attend specific training courses, and receive personal support. Air France has 470 instructors to supervise the scheme. According to a press release, Jean Fernandez, EVP Flight Operations at Air France, said the following:
“In this exceptional context, where most of our aircraft are still grounded, we have maintained a permanent link with all our pilots. We know that our customers’ priority is flight safety, and for us, this is absolutely essential. We are ready, and everything is being done to ensure we return to service in the best possible conditions and to guarantee everyone a safe trip. Our pilots are passionate about what they do at our customers’ service.”
Ryanair keeps pilots and planes in the air
While many airlines have had most of their fleet grounded, others have kept their planes flying. After a long period out of service, an aircraft needs to be prepared to take to the skies again. However, this takes time and costs money.
In preparation for a rapid return to full operational capability, Ryanair has been operating ghost flights. The short flights with empty planes mostly involve taking off and landing with a few loops and turns in between.
By flying most of its aircraft at least once every four days, Ryanair is not only ensuring the operational availability of its fleet, but also the readiness of its pilots.
Asiana might need to operate A380 ghost flights
Asiana Airlines has had a problem keeping its A380 pilots current. Pilots are required to complete three takeoffs and landings in the 90 days preceding a flight. But Asiana’s A380 fleet is grounded, and the airline has no simulators of its own. Quarantine regulations have prevented pilots from traveling to use simulators.
The only option for the airline may be to operate ghost flights. Preparing its A380s for service will take some work, but having its aircraft and pilots operationally available will make it worthwhile.
Altogether, there are wider implications to getting the commercial aviation industry off the ground after the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not only pilots that have time-limited qualifications. Other critical workers such as air traffic controllers and engineers require current certification. Ultimately, there could be a backlog of expired credentials that will take time to sort out.
Do you think ghost flights are the best way to keep pilots active? Let us know what you think in the comment section.