We are in a war against Covid-19, and desperate times call for desperate measures. As I write this we have been forced into a three-week nationwide lockdown. This is unprecedented – like a plot from a noir sci-fi novel. We are in unknown territory, so it’s difficult to guesstimate what the impact will be. But I will try.
Where I have already attempted to make some assumptions as to what the impact on general aviation will be – they have often been wrong. For instance, I fondly hoped that the charter industry may escape relatively unscathed as, on the one hand, the incoming tourism demand would be radically decreased but on the other hand, those who can afford it will move from the high risk of sharing space on airliners to chartering smaller aircraft. It seems I was wrong. Talking to people in the industry reveals that the effects of Covid-19 and the lockdown will be to gut the charter industry as people are just not travelling – and the hard truth is that inbound tourism may take years to recover.
In the short-term the effects of Covid-19 and the lockdown are evident in the closure of air shows. We have already seen the cancellation of ‘FASHkosh’ in the Western Cape, the huge Aero Expo in Germany and Sun n Fun in the United States. It’s probable that the Presidents’ Trophy Air Race may also have to be cancelled. Even more worrying from an industry perspective is the AAD Expo. But hey, at least we are not Japanese and facing the cancellation of the Olympics.
What we also know is that the long-term effects on the broader aviation industry will be profound. It is safe to say that the airline industry will never be the same again. The bubble of continuous airline growth has burst and all the projections for the pending massive pilot shortage have gone out the window. The world economy was heading into a cyclical downturn and the Covid-19 pandemic will force many airlines to close, although perhaps ironically, as I note in my FlightCom editorial, African airlines may in fact be in a better position to survive.
A massive decline in the airline industry will obviously have huge implications for the training industry. Previously pilots as young as 23 years old were able to get into well-paying airline jobs. The devastation of the airline industry will cause a glut of pilots for the next couple of years.
However, let us not lose sight of the resilience of the general aviation. I am reminded of how the massive squeeze on fuel prices and affordability 40 years ago all but destroyed the market for new general aviation aircraft. Yet the passion for aviation continued to burn. People turned to homebuilding and there was a massive new industry of aircraft being built from plans – on the promise of unbelievable performance.
It is the unquenchable flame that is the romance of flying which will carry us through this crisis.