Australian Flying's COVID-19 survey has produced mixed results, which reflects the variety and confusion the GA industry has been under due to the impact of coronavirus.
During the height of the lockdown period, rules issued by the different state governments were inconsistent and unclear, leaving many in the GA community unsure if flying was still permitted. In some cases, such as NSW, specific directives were issued that banned private aviation except for flight training. However, some schools elected to cease flying anyway because of the proximity of the student and instructor.
Then there were the many aircraft owners that flew alone from private airstrips, who could be in the air for hours and return to the same strip without ever being in contact with other people. Could there be any greater isolation?
The biggest impact appears to have been the availability of disposable income for flying. With job queues growing through the land and companies forced to stop operations, flying took a back-seat in many instances, depriving flying schools of much-needed cash flow.
Our survey revealed that 40% of CPL respondents flew more than 70% fewer hours since 1 March compared with what they expected. A further 33% said their hours were down 10-50%. Despite this downturn, only two CPLs said their company had had to put them off because of reducing flying activity and only three operators who responded said they had closed their doors.
Flying instructor feedback was more definite, with 61% saying instructional hours were down by more than 70%. This was despite flight training being classified as education and therefore permitted in most jurisdictions. Only one instructor reported flying more hours than normal. Others reported drops of up to 30%.
Private and recreational respondents indicated that generally they flew fewer hours during the lockdown peak, but the reasons were varied. Of the responses, 20% said they didn't fly because they believed the private aviation was banned in their state, whilst 22% said regardless of the rules, they felt not flying was the right thing to do. Another 15% didn't want to risk exposure to COVID-19 and so stayed away from the airport. Only two people indicated that they had lost their jobs and so didn't have the money to fly.
Among other reasons for not flying as much during the COVID lockdown were:
- Regional travel restrictions in WA
- No instructors to complete a flight test or renewal
- Angel Flight missions being canceled.
The GA industry is approaching the situation with caution. Of the respondents, 52% said they were somewhat confident the industry could recover, but 38% said they felt not so confident and only 9% said they were very confident or higher. This may reflect uncertainty over what state aviation will be in once the government's assistance programs end in September. It's clear most are feeling the ground shake under their feet.
Not even CASA, which has been roundly praised for their exemptions, got a complete pass mark for their efforts, with respondents marking them an average of 47/100 for their efforts. The highest mark given was 100%, but there were enough zeros in there to bring the average down below halfway.
Is this a definitive measure?
No. The survey collector tops out at 100 people, which was never going to be a large enough sample to say the results would give us an accurate measure of the impacts. Similarly, not enough respondents were CPLs to say that we were able to get a handle on the situation. What the survey did do, however, was confirm the anecdotal feedback we were getting; there were no surprises in the results at all.
To get a greater feel for what GA may be going through, Angela Stevenson has conducted a series of interviews with people in the industry and published them as the Grounded podcasts. They are all available on her website via this link:
Australian Flying thanks all those that contributed to the survey. Your feedback was very valuable. We encourage the entire GA community to continue telling us their stories through the comments section at the base of this article.