Evidence suggests that student pilots continue streaming into US flight schools despite the Covid-19 pandemic having left the world’s airline industry scrambling to survive.
Several flight schools are reporting that as many or more students are enrolling in flight education now as were before the pandemic, and professional group Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has heard similar reports from the flight schools it works with.
Whether such reports reflect a nationwide trend remains unclear, as hard data is difficult to obtain. AOPA did not provide enrolment figures, and the Federal Aviation Administration does not track such data.
But insiders say training demand remains strong partly because students still expect the world’s airlines will resume hiring after recovering from the pandemic-induced downturn. Also, some students may now be pursuing their dream to fly after having lost jobs, due to the pandemic, in other sectors.
“We are all very, very surprised as to the amount of people that are coming,” says Owain Gibbes, chief instructor at Melbourne, Florida-based flight school F.I.T. Aviation, part of Florida Institute of Technology. The school’s fall 2020 and spring 2021 classes were “two of the biggest… we’ve had”.
Training demand comes at an unusual time considering many of the world’s airlines have, in the last year, grounded thousands of jets and slashed their workforces. Some carriers have ceased operations entirely and many remain dependent on government aid. Many pilots are out of work.
Some US flight schools shut their doors for a few weeks or months in early 2020 as the pandemic spread, then reopened before mid-year.
About that time, flight schools started reporting that they were remarkably busy, says Chris Moser, AOPA’s senior director of flight training education.