Is the Pandemic Getting Airline Pilots Out of Practice Flying?

A worrying report from the world of air travel

Jet plane in flight
What effect has a reduction in flights had on pilots?
Dominik Scythe/Unsplash

Since the pandemic began, it’s had a significant effect on air travel. This isn’t shocking in and of itself — there are a host of reasons why fewer people are flying right now and, consequently, why fewer planes are in the air. Headlines pointing to airline routes being reduced have, unfortunately, become a constant in the last few months. But there’s another dimension of this that hasn’t been as well-documented — namely, the effect that fewer flights have had on the people tasked with actually flying the planes.

Writing at the Los Angeles Times, Hugo Martin explores this phenomenon. Martin cites “at least a dozen flying errors and mishaps since May” that pilots chalked up to their extended time on the ground since the onset of the pandemic. Thankfully, the incidents described didn’t result in anything catastrophic happening — the most serious one described in the article involved a damaged towing vehicle — but they remain worrying.

Piloting or co-piloting an airplane is like anything else — the more frequently you do it, the more comfortable you are with it, and vice versa. Martin also points out that a lack of practice isn’t the only factor here — some planes are flying far fewer passengers these days. If you’re used to piloting a mostly full flight in a certain aircraft, that flight going to 25% capacity will have a significant effect on how that aircraft handles.

It’s a disconcerting look at a less-noticeable way the pandemic has made its influence felt on air travel in the last year — and one which calls out for an industry response.

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