Local pilots say COVID-19 impact is altering industry’s outlook

Local News

POOLER, Ga. (WSAV) – Economists estimate COVID-19’s impact on the airlines could end up being worse than what happened post-9/11.

Funding from the CARES Act will end on Oct, 1, putting thousands of people at risk of losing work. More than 3,000 airline jobs are expected to be cut here in Savannah and in Atlanta.

Several state leaders are working to pass a measure to extend payroll support to the airlines. Several pilots spoke with WSAV. They said the pandemic’s impact on flight travel is altering the industry.

Zack Hartley, the chief flight instructor at Savannah Aviation Flight School, said the journey to becoming an airline pilot is extensive — but for many, the payoff of reaching their 1,500 hours of training is the potential to land a job with an airline.

“Well, once they got there and COVID-19 hit and all of the air travel kind of stopped, well now, a lot of those people ended up getting furloughed, especially if they didn’t have the seniority with the company,” Hartley said. “You kind of saw this dramatic shift in realizing that the airlines weren’t as secure of a job as they thought it was. No job is really safe, so we actually had some people come back and work for us who were actually airline pilots.”

With too many pilots and not enough flights, Hartley said many of their former students have ended up in “limbo.”

“It’s a very uncertain time for sure, and not only in the airline industry but with flight training. Like everybody else we were affected, we didn’t have a lot of students,” the aviator added.

The uncertainty for how long it will take airlines to rebound is adding to a decline in flight school admittance. Many aviation programs have shut down across the country due to solely focusing on training international students.

“There are flight schools, like for example up in Atlanta, whose whole purpose was to have Chinese students come in,” Joe Rodriguez a Savannah Aviation Flight School Instructor said.

“They may or may not be allowed to continue training because the government that’s sponsoring them may be pulling back their funding or because it’s just too much of a risk for the citizens who are currently here, but it’s a safety measure and a flight precaution they have to take,” he added.

On Thursday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration announced $335 million in grants would be available for airports across the country. Savannah and Atlanta’s airports were not on the list.

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