The Irish flight school that trains pilots for Ryanair and for Aer Lingus Regional operator, Stobart Air, has said the Covid-19 crisis will be overcome and that there is light at the end of the tunnel for the aviation industry.
Cork-based Atlantic Flight Training Academy (AFTA) is Ireland’s largest flight school, operating 22 aircraft, as well as a flight simulator. It is continuing to train up to 80 pilots, in preparation for a return of global air travel, when stay-at-home restrictions are lifted.
AFTA-trained pilots fly for airlines across the globe and the company has partnerships with Ryanair, Stobart Air, Air Astana, in Kazakhstan, and Pegasus Airlines, in Turkey.
Speaking to the, AFTA’s managing director, Mark Casey, said the aviation industry is dealing with an unprecedented crisis, but one from which it will recover.
“We are in daily contact with our partner airlines and the message we are getting is to keep moving forward with the training,” Mr Casey said.
The aviation industry is very concerned, at the moment, but we do see light at the end of the tunnel and are prepared for a staged re-engagement at the right time.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated that airlines worldwide could lose €231bn in revenue this year from the coronavirus pandemic.
Industry-wide traffic is expected to decline almost 40% in 2020, IATA said, while a revival will take time, because the coronavirus outbreak is global.
Mr Casey said it was fortuitous that many of AFTA’s trainees were in a theoretical phase of learning when the crisis hit.
“We have a very good IT section, that is constantly looking at ways to improve the way we deliver our training.
“It means we have been able to continue with pilot training remotely,” Mr Casey said.
AFTA’s 22 aircraft are grounded and stored in hangars at Cork and Waterford airports.
The company is keeping two aircraft operational and ready to be used at short notice, Mr Casey said.
These have been offered to the HSE, in case they are needed to move supplies or personnel, as part of the national response to the Covid-19 crisis.
He praised the response of the Government to the crisis, particularly through the phasing-in of restrictions towards the current lockdown.
“Simon Coveney and Simon Harris are doing a great job,” Mr Casey said.
The Irish Aviation Authority has also been to the fore in coming up with solutions, such as extending the ratings of pilots, taking into consideration the current crisis.
Established in 1995, AFTA operates a modern training fleet of aircraft and simulators, including the state-of-the-art, B737 NG simulator.
The company has 63 staff, the majority of whom are engaged in pilot instruction and training.
“The huge negative for us, at the moment, is that we are not flying and that is worldwide,” Mr Casey said.
“Obviously, the panacea for this crisis is a vaccine, but that will take time. Hopefully, the rapid tests they are developing will allow us all to get back to work on a phased basis,” he said.
“In our industry, it is not going to be a case where airlines that had hundreds of planes in the air and then dropped to zero can switch back to hundreds in the air again. It will take time,” Mr Casey said.
Will the airlines recover? The strong ones will and I think all our partners are in that space.
“Stobart is the largest and most successful regional player in Europe and is very well-run and managed. Ryanair is the same. It is in a very strong cash position, with a very good management team.”
“They have said to us to keep training and they will see us on the other side of this, because there is hope and optimism and it’s the same with Pegasus and Air Astana,” Mr Casey said.