Aviation’s Covid Consequences

By Scott Spangler on April 20th, 2020

Concentrating on a short-term goal is natural when facing unpleasant restrictions, but these inconveniences pale in comparison to the long-term consequences. What unites both timeframes is the inescapable reality that as individuals, societies, and industries, we are intimately responsible for the consequences of our decisions. With a clear blue sky to stare into, it is a perfect day to ponder aviation’s Covid consequences.

Pilot Shortage to Surplus

Grounded_Airplanes_12-800x533Before the coronavirus disrupted our lives, professional pilots were in short supply. Then the airlines parked most of their fleets, and those still flying were bereft of passengers. Many may hope that travel will rebound one day, but that seems unlikely given the growing number of Americans out of work (22 million and counting) and the trickle down delusions that have, since the 1980s, put shareholders and the executives who cater to them (and themselves) ahead of employees and customers.

Everyday employees are corporate fodder sacrificed as needed to maintain a corporation’s bottom line, so don’t expect those millions to return immediately to work. It took almost 10 years for them to find work after the great recession, and the economy will start its Covid recovery from a deeper hole.

The airlines will probably dig it deeper. The government just gave the airlines a $25 billion bailout, with each of them negotiating its specific requirements and limitations with the administration. To get the bailout, airlines may not fire or furlough employees until September 2020, so we can expect the pilot surplus to exist in October 2020. They cannot buy back more of their stock (which is how they spent a lot of their tax cut windfall) until September 2021 and cannot reward their executives until September 2022.

User Fees

Survey-16Buried in the CARES economic stimulus legislation is an Easter egg that gives airlines what they have been working toward for years, relief from the ticket tax that with, the aviation fuel tax, funds the Airport Improvement Program. Perhaps you saw the media releases from aviation’s alphabet organizations warning that aviation’s infrastructure was in peril because the AIP account was quickly being depleted.

Seeking a degree of fairness, the alphabets urged Congress to provide fuel tax relief for a time. Congress hasn’t yet responded to this request, but if it agrees, it might open the door wide to user fees. The path to this outcome is in the last tax cut legislations. All of the cuts that benefited the haves are permanent, and those that benefit the less fortunate have expiration dates.

Don’t be distracted by the $10 billion infusion from the DOT. Like the $350 billion earmarked for small business relief, that won’t last long at all. America must still fund its aviation infrastructure long term, and as they have in the past, the airlines will lobby for user fees as the “fairest” solution, if Congress provides fuel tax relief. If politicians really cared about treating those who elected them equitably, they would keep the fuel tax and make the multitude of fees the airlines charge subject to the ticket tax.

AirVenture Anticipation?

AV06-SMS-228With the Covid curve still climbing in Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers extended the stay-at-home order until May 26. That greatly reduces the chances that EAA AirVenture Oshkosh will happen this year, for a number of reasons.

The lockdown and social distancing seriously impedes the site work that typically is kicking into high gear about now. And it precludes the arrival of the thousands of volunteers who make the event work. Also affecting the volunteer workforce is their post-Covid employment status—no matter any pilgrim’s passion, food and shelter come first—and their age. The average EAAer is in the demographic most at risk.

Ultimately, miracles happen, but in this case, only time—with testing and a precipitous decline of new infections and hospitalizations—will tell. Given the ineptitude of the national response to the pandemic….

Making smart decisions is the best way to mitigate the Covid consequences, because in this case, death is the only cure for stupid.

The coronavirus is one of Mother Nature’s many faces, none of them sentient beings that pledge allegiance to any political party or ideology. She works on a long-term timeframe, relentlessly taking advantage of every opportunity to propagate. And when something stands in her way, she mutates to avoid the barrier and continues on her way, blowing raspberries at human hubris. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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5 Responses to “Aviation’s Covid Consequences”

  1. Dale Says:

    You should not sugar coat such issues

  2. Douglas Boyd Says:

    Reminds me of the late 1990s. Airlines siphoning pilots away from flight schools, Part 135 operators etc and then 9/11 and overnight , 9/11 poof. These bad times too shall pass.

  3. Stephen Casciotta Says:

    Yeah and there is a shortage of A & P’s too. In the long run, if we don’t have maintainers like me, nobody goes nowhere. Sad, Steve USN ret.

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