COVID-19 – Stranded Pilots

COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure of national and state borders, in turn bringing the commercial flights to a near halt. This has resulted in a countless number of pilots being grounded. Many airlines under severe financial constraints have either laid off or sent their staff on unpaid leave. This has resulted in each affected individual being hit by the uncertainties about their employment while under pressure to keep the hearth burning. Add to this, the social isolation of these stressful times has taken away the opportunities to meet others and share one’s thoughts and concerns, especially with friends and extended families. 

Pilots, though trained to handle all kinds of flight related stresses to ensure safe flight, are least trained to cope with uncertainties of life brought by COVID-19, like the rest of the populace. Each individual is left to fend for him-/herself without knowing what lies ahead. Those still in the employ of an airline or flying school are slowly returning back to work; while others are holding on to the slender hope of returning to work and some among those on long unpaid leave or laid-off need to find an alternative employment to support themselves or their family. Worse could be the state of those about to enter the aviation industry, having invested heavily in their flying training, who may at times be doubting their career choice at this juncture despite their passion for aviation.

Each one of us who has been affected due to the financial downturn wrought by the pandemic has an uncertainty staring in our faces. It is important that each one copes with these trying times until the tide turns favourable, hopefully soon. Hold on to the handrails of time, Buddy! 

The question that we may be asking ourselves is how to cope with such uncertainties of COVID-19 pandemic, especially its impact on our mental health and well-being?

One of the ways is that instead of being the macho, who broods within while maintaining a tough exterior, one needs to open up about oneself. More importantly at a personal level, one needs to cope with current situation with a positive frame of mind despite its immediate or short-term impact on our professions and lives. This is possible only if we fall back on the basics, similar to what the pilots’ are taught early in their career: Aviate – Navigate –Communicate – Administrate (ANCA) [1]. 

Some of the ways to practice ANCA, or something akin to that, in our daily lives affected by an adverse situation that we find ourselves in due to COVID-19 are:

  • Maintain a daily routine since we humans are creatures of habit.
  • Live each day by looking into it as it comes without worries and uncertainties getting the better of you.
  • Rediscovering or finding our own rhythm of life, by allowing ourselves to indulge in hobbies or whatever helps us unwind/relax, except using alcohol or illicit substances 
  • Find time to exercise daily, even if one may need to find ways to exercise indoors due to lockdowns or to avoid exposure to those likely to be infected. 
  • Take account of the situation, including the financial status
  • Share the space with immediate family maintaining harmony especially remembering that there could be frayed nerves everywhere
  • Keep Negative emotions at bay 
  • Learn to engage in communication with family or friends, sometimes just voicing our thoughts and concerns helps us unburden our heart
  • Reach out – this is a two-way traffic, where if one is feeling low, it could be a trusted buddy or family member who could offer a patient ear; similarly it could be them affected, and despite our own uncertainties, we need to lend them our ears: all that each of us needs at times is someone to listen our real or perceived woes 
  • If the situation seems overwhelming and starts affecting us negatively – mentally or physically, it is time to see our doctor. 

We may doubt whether consulting our family doctor or aviation medical examiner (AME) could affect our aviation medical or flying status. It is important to remember that being human, while we cope with a prolonged stressful situation, we may at times feel overwhelmed in our mind and body and unable to cope with the uncertainties of the current phase/downturn in life. Herein, it is valuable to seek help in time, even if it means need for counselling or treatment. Of course, different aviation authorities have varying views on mental health [2], but the more progressive ones actively support their pilots and air traffic controllers who may have a mental health condition but stable on maintenance medication [3]. Think about it – an early intervention may help prevent our stressful situation from becoming an illness, without its likely impact on one’s medical status.

This is the time to remember to act responsible – for one’s own sake: one must remind oneself to live positively to fly another day, with an aviator’s discipline of not engaging in any irresponsible act or behaviour including staying away from drugs or alcohol. Yet, if we feel we are stuck in the prevailing bad weather, which doesn’t seem to be ending – Call out to seek help, exactly as one would give a PAN-PAN call.  

Read More:

  1. COVID-19 – Feeling Blue   


  1. Robinson A. Aviate-navigate-communicate-administrate. Flight Safety Australia 2019. [accessed 5 Sep 2020]
  2. COVID‐19 crisis and its effect on aviation mental health. Joint statement by the European Pilot Peer Support Initiative (EPPSI) and their founding organisations: European Association for Aviation Psychology (EAAP), European Cockpit Association (ECA); European Society of Aerospace Medicine (ESAM) and Mayday Foundation. [accessed 5 Sep 2020]
  3. Clinical Practice Guidelines – Depression. [accessed 5 Sep 2020]

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