It seems like only yesterday that we were reporting on a strange new virus in Wuhan, advising people to pack a face mask if they were headed to ZHHH airport, and to avoid fish markets. What a ludicrous news alert that turned out to be!
That was January 6th, and now here we are, two months later, and we all know what’s happened since then. Our news feeds which we use here at OPSGROUP to monitor all the nasty things which might upset your day, your flight, your entire operation – where before these were just little blinking lights in a sea of largely irrelevant news, now they’re more like a raging storm, spilling off the screen. Travel bans, flight restrictions, airport closures, entire countries shutting down. The Coronavirus has come a long way from that little fish market in China.
We’re keeping a dedicated page updated every day with all the latest travel/flight restrictions issued by countries around the world. View it here. The way things are going, that whole effort may get super easy to manage sometime soon – all we’ll need is one alert:
ZZZZ/Worldwide Coronavirus update: all countries have stopped allowing all flights from all places. Everything is closed. If you’re a person, of any nationality, trying to go anywhere, you can’t. Just stay home.
Information is one thing – that’s a core component of OPSGROUP. But so is Community. And not just Community for the sake of feeding Information (which is a great and powerful thing), but Community in and of itself – to know that there are other people out there who are going through the same thing you’re going through, and who might be able to help.
Over the past few weeks, with the Coronavirus quickly spreading well beyond China, we have received messages from members all around the world – some asking for help, some sharing stories about the challenges they’re facing.
Here’s one of many such stories that stuck out, a letter to OPSGROUP from an Airbus Captain and Instructor based in Europe, which we have published here with their permission. If you have anything you would like to share, please do. What are you going through? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A letter from an OPSGROUP Member
I sit here writing this while my eldest practices her French homework. Until this time, it was the domain of my wife, but for the first time in 22 years, I am at home on unpaid leave because of the Coronavirus.
This threat, despite being downplayed in its infancy, is nothing like any of us can remember. I was a first officer in 9/11 and spent a few days sitting around waiting for the world to start up again. But even then, we got back on our feet and while the world of aviation changed – mostly for the better (from a security standpoint certainly) – it was nothing like this!
Years later, as a management pilot (captain for a legacy airline) I find myself having to run a greatly reduced operation with many of my colleagues facing uncertain futures; new colleagues finding that their job offers have been rescinded, and colleagues who I have been helping through training now finding no job at the end of it.
At the same time, colleagues of many years standing, not just in my airline, are going to work every day not certain of what the future holds. Some friends have already lost their jobs through recent collapses of other airlines. They have found new jobs only to find themselves in exactly the same position 6 months later. Now is the time we have to stick together as a community; whether we are pilots, cabin service staff, dispatchers, engineers, cleaners, control staff…..the list is endless. All of us are affected by this pandemic.
Let’s take a step back for a minute, without being too political (although it is a little difficult) and look at what this could mean for us as a sector in the long term. When we come out of this, and we WILL come out of this, the aviation landscape will have changed a great deal. More colleagues will find themselves out of a job through no fault of their own. More jets will find themselves detained at airports. Those of us who are left will have the awesome responsibility of proving to the world that, yet again, we can pick ourselves up and get on with the jobs we love.
At the time of writing this, passengers from Schengen countries can’t travel to the US – that’s my family holiday to Disney up in smoke! We can’t overfly Iran or Iraq (again); we can’t go to Israel, China, Singapore or Korea, and closer to home the Austrians have closed their borders and there is talk this evening of the French closing their airspace. Where I live the schools are closed until April and while you can buy 2 trumpets, a tent and a MiG welder in Aldi basics like toilet roll are non-existent.
For those of us who have teams to manage, we have many demoralised staff who are rightly worried about their future – both professional and financial – but we also have to look to the end of this situation when the world opens again. We will have mothballed jets to reactivate, currency requirements to check, not to mention fares which are bound to be high and passengers who are rightly nervous about travelling again. For those of us who work for airlines who receive state aid, that has to be paid back while making sure that we give something back to our shareholders (without whom, we wouldn’t be able to go flying). We will also be in the unenviable position of being VERY short of crew. We don’t know which airlines will have failed during this period, and how much extra work there will be to pick up. We don’t know how airports will survive. Will they put up their fees to offset the losses they make at this time? Will we have to cull routes because passengers don’t want to travel? The number of unanswered questions is almost endless. I have given up writing them down at the moment as I will only depress myself, or colleagues by trying to seek the answers.
I am lucky that my airline hasn’t been affected by the MAX issues. However, we have been affected by problems with the Trent, and problems with the PW11xx. All of these are problems that can be sorted out by good technical support and sound management planning. But what does this mean for those of us who don’t have a vast army behind us, working behind the scenes? The answer is an all to familiar one, and not one that is particularly palatable. But we have been here before, and I’m afraid we will be here again. We are professionals and we will overcome the challenges as we do every day of our working lives. We will carry our passengers safely, comfortably, and for the most part, happily.
Since I’ve been a member of OPSGROUP I have realised how disjointed out industry is. We don’t always talk to each other and share information as we should. Whether this is for commercial reasons or because of deep-seated rivalry (I’m writing this anonymously, so I don’t get shot by my CEO). But in times like this, my Whatsapp/iMessage/Signal has been invaluable because I have been conversing with colleagues in other airlines, sharing information from my side and receiving it from theirs. It has helped me be a better manager because without breaching confidentiality I have got a feel for what others are doing. And in meetings with the SMT etc I have been able to give examples of how we might work together on some issues.
I hope this will continue as this situation continues to evolve. But this is where OPSGROUP comes into its own. We have a resource which I believe is second to none when it comes to information sharing, especially about airspace issues, airport issues etc. Some of these things don’t appear on my LIDO and were it not for OPSGROUP I wouldn’t have known.
It’s very easy for us to all sit back and think “someone else will do it”, but we are all in this together. It is our responsibility as aviation professionals to do the best job we can this day and every day. To network as much as we can. To share information as much as we can. And work together as much as we can. At the end of the day, we all want to make sure the jet is shiny side up and reusable. The passengers walk away and go “wow, I’ll fly with them again”. They don’t know all the work that goes on behind the scenes, but each and every one of us is a representative of our industry, as well as our employers.
Even with this pandemic issue, we had many issues already to deal with. Brexit, fuel costs, crazy weather, competition, civil unrest, strikes (France I’m looking at you). These issues will all still be waiting for us when we come out of this. I have questions in my inbox that I can’t even start to answer until we know what’s going to happen. We have the UK leaving the EU. We have the political situation in the US, we have the price of crude oil going up and down every 5 minutes. Then we still have the headache that is the MAX. When/if that comes back its going to be a whole new challenge for us to face – as an industry – trying to persuade passengers that the phrase “if its Boeing I’m not going” shouldn’t apply. This is what makes this job fun – every day is different.
Quite a number of OPSGROUP members are Business Aviation people, and quite a bit of the info is BA specific. That’s good for the BA folk. But I’m writing this paragraph for those of us who are commercial. And as I said earlier, we don’t always share information for various reasons. But this situation is a time for us to come together with our BA colleagues and work as a team. Whether it’s getting rid of NOTAMs that would double as toilet paper, or where to get the best coffee, its information worth sharing. Once the UK eventually decides what it wants (I’m checking my retirement age on my pension statement to see which will come first) or when Donald Trump has his next attack of verbal diarrhoea, as part of a team, we can get over that, work out what we need to do for our business area/airline and all sit down in the crew hotel at the end of the day and share a beer.
Hopefully some of you out there will find this information useful. If you have questions I’m sure we can try and figure them out together. If you have concerns, I’m sure we can help or point you in the direction of someone that can.
I have a saying at the end of my crew briefings: GO MAD – Go Out and Make A Difference. Let’s do it.