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Piloting the Covid Crisis: My Story of Redundancy

by Mark Dunning BALPA Member

With 35 years of piloting under my belt, I thought I’d seen it all. But COVID-19 was something different. I’ve navigated turbulent times before, the post 9/11 slump in aviation, the liquidation in 2008 of XL Airways and having to move to a different continent (Japan and Hongkong) to follow the work. But back then it was always with the belief that things would come good in the end, the market would recover and I’d be able to find work when it did. That was all before the pandemic.

COVID-19 changed everything and changed my life completely.

Before the pandemic I had returned to Europe and was a Captain for Norwegian Air Shuttle on the Boeing 737-800 and Max based at London Gatwick. When the crisis hit it was bad news after bad news.

First came the groundings and furlough and then on 29th of January this year the final nail in the coffin… Norwegian went into liquidation with the loss of all staff.

While we knew the situation for world travel was dire, the announcement that my job was gone was a real shock. All staff found out about the loss of employment by email- a stark way to hear such bad news.

Luckily I had BALPA to turn to and the help of its Redundancy Assistance Group and other services. But nevertheless losing a job this was has been difficult. 

Infact the continuing COVID-19 situation has been a huge issue for me and my whole family. For me, the biggest problem is that there are very few jobs in aviation or outside aviation for the over 60’s.

I would return to flying if possible, but the reality is that with only three more years to mandatory retirement from flying, no company is likely to spend money on my training (in this current financial climate) for such a short financial return, when there are so many younger unemployed pilots waiting to return after COVID-19. I am therefore forced to look for other forms of employment.

The Government departments and local authorities have made this a most unpleasant experience for all that have unfortunately lost their jobs. Neither have demonstrated a willingness to give any tangible and meaningful offers of help back into the jobs market. 

The Department for Work and Pensions and local authorities have very little in the way of funds to help those in need. There is no indication that common sense is applied to the redundant pilots situation and any convenient job offers seem to be considered.

I have been offered numerous delivery driving jobs for £9.00/hr, but the 80 to 100 drops a day policy makes impractical for someone in their older years. I have also been offered a domestic cleaners position at £8.91/ hr and a McDonalds store-person job for the same money. It seems the view is that these are legitimate transferable skills from the roll as a commercial pilot!

There is not much available in the way of funds to help those in need retrain or find alternative work. During my furlough period I retrained as a domestic and electric vehicle charging point electrician (self-funded) as a “plan B” for any eventuality. But even this has been tough with some colleges and universities giving guidance that I am too old to take a full-time education space.

The Government needs to recognise the true realities and the effects of COVID on the people that have lost their jobs during this pandemic and properly support them in re-education/retraining for other work if aviation is no longer available to return to.

Some skills from my army and piloting days are adaptability and resilience. I have had to call on these to see me though this dark time. It’s not been easy, and the lack of Government help has been shocking.

Before the crisis hit I thought I would see out my days as a pilot. Now my career as a pilot is in tatters and any financial security I had has gone. I doubt I will ever be back at the controls again. I just hope the Government will see how its policies are wrecking the once world leading industry and leaving pilots with no means of support and no hope. While it may be too late to help me return to flying, I hope the Government will acknowledge its responsibility and step in to prevent further company failures and job losses.

BALPA is here for members who have lost jobs. You will find bespoke support and guidance on our website and in particular on the follwoing pages: 

Member Services
Redundancy Assistance Group
BALPA Benevolent Fund
Personal Support

You can find out more about our current lobbying and campaigning here.