‘It’s Not Quite Like Riding a Bike’: Pilots Get Ready to Fly Again

“The speed surprised me for one or two seconds, and my heart raced,” Mr. Gaad said. “The buildup of speed, the buildup of altitude, the speed that you need to control during landing and other phases, it’s entirely different from what you’re used to, but then after oneor two flights you get used to it.”

Another new reality for pilots flying during the pandemic: preparing to operate planes that have been parked for extended periods of time. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, or EASA, responsible for civil aviation safety in the European Union, has issued guidelines for identifying hazards like worn out aircraft parking brakes or wildlife nesting in the aircraft engine.

“Airlines must factor in that pilots may need longer than normal to perform the necessary preflight checks on an aircraft returning to service,” said Patrick Ky, the executive director of the agency. “A holistic approach is key.”

Despite the challenges, many pilots feel relieved to be back at work.

“At the beginning there was a lot of worry about the risks of Covid, but now that vaccinations are underway everyone who has been recalled is so happy,” said Sourav Basu Roy Choudhury, a pilot for an American airline, which he did not want to identify because he was not permitted to speak to the news media.

“We love the air, the view, the aircrafts and it’s so much more about those feelings than the money, although in this pandemic you realize that the money is also important.” Mr. Choudhury said. “Everyone is making a big effort with training because they just want to get back.”

Some pilots spent the past year working in warehouses or as delivery drivers just so they could provide for their families; others have not worked at all.

“I felt completely useless and didn’t understand how I could work and train so hard to become a captain, only to find myself at the bottom of the ladder again,” said a former British Airways pilot who asked not to be identified by name because he did not want to jeopardize his chances of being rehired.


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