Coronavirus: Out-of-work pilots turn to labouring, call centre work to make ends meet

The head of a small airline company says he is heartbroken at having to turn down experienced pilots, desperate for work.

Fly My Sky - which services Auckland's Great Barrier Island - has been inundated with CVs from those within the industry who lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

Chief executive Scott Young says pilots he has spoken to are now looking at other ways to pay the bills - some of whom have racked up more than $100,000 in debt to pay for their qualifications. 

"Some of them have gone back to carpet laying, picking up trades, teaching, coaching... they've realised it's a three-, four-, five-year break they're going to have from flying... These guys are in their late 20s, early 30s. They're not going to be coming back into this for four, five maybe 10 years."  

According to the Government's careers website, it's estimated around 4100 jobs in the aviation sector have been lost as a result of COVID-19, out of a total workforce of 22,900.

One experienced pilot Newshub spoke to says he knows the feeling too well. He would like to remain anonymous, but told Newshub the pandemic has wreaked havoc in the sector - with some of his colleagues now working as labourers and in supermarkets as grocery assistants. 

"Looking at it in a positive way, it's put [my career] on pause... it essentially could have ended it, in some respects." 

The pilot said none of the big airlines are hiring at all, and smaller operators generally give jobs to people they know.

"I've applied for six or seven roles... some of which I've been - with all due respect - overqualified for, and I couldn't even get an interview... At the end of the day I know airlines are still a business, and if they're not profitable they've got to make these hard decisions. It's just unfortunate that a lot of us are sitting in the position where we find ourselves jobless. 

"There's no real hard feelings - it is what it is - but at the same time, it's a bit of a traumatic process we've all had to deal with in our own way." 

He's now working in a call centre, saying he's gotten by thanks to support from his friends and family.

Young says pilots are passionate about their chosen career and it's a tragedy the industry has been decimated. For some, he thinks it could be up to a decade before they get back in the sky.

Young says he wishes he could give them all work, particularly recent graduates who could be waiting years for their first jobs in the industry. 

"We're getting a lot of CVs unsolicited... we've got an abundance of 737, 747, 50 and 60-year-old pilots applying for jobs to fly 10-seaters out to the Great Barrier... Flying's their passion, flying's everything they've done."

"A better day will come," added the anonymous pilot. "It's just so hard to explain to people that don't really get it - if a disease came along which meant all lawyers couldn't be lawyers anymore, it would be interesting to see what they positioned themselves to do. 

"At the end of the day, we just gotta keep our heads up and keep going and a better day will come."