A returning pilot lost control of an aircraft during landing and went off the runway into a ditch. Another who had just returned from license forgot to activate a critical antifreeze system designed to prevent cold weather hazards. Several others flew at the wrong altitudes, which they attributed to distractions and communication failures.
In all these incidents, which were recorded in NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System, a database of commercial aviation errors that pilots and other airline crews report anonymously., the pilots involved blamed the same for their mistakes: the lack of flight practice during the pandemic.
In 2020, global air passenger traffic experienced the largest year-on-year decline in aviation history, falling 65.9 percent compared to 2019, aaccording to the International Air Transport Association. Flights were suspended, schedules were shortened, and thousands of pilots were fired or suspended for up to 12 months.
As vaccination programs accelerate in some parts of the world and travel begins to pick up, airlines are beginning to reactivate their fleets and summon pilots as they prepare to extend their schedules for the summer. Thursday, the TSA registered the second highest day of airport checks since the pandemic hit: more than 1.64 million.
But returning pilots can’t just pick up where they left off.
“It’s not like riding a bike,” said Joe Townshend, a former pilot for Titan Airways, a British charter airline, who was fired when the pandemic struck in March last year.
“You can probably go 10 years without flying a plane and still take off,” he said, “but what fades is the operational side of things.”