A leading aviation expert and a major international airline have both
agreed that pilots who have endured a Covid-enforced lay-off are in
need of more intense refresher courses to avoid the potential of
‘rookie’ mistakes in the air.
Qantas has said it is finding that pilots who have not flown for long
periods due to the pandemic are making errors and need more time for
The good news is that rusty pilots are not putting passengers in danger.
a report by the Sydney Morning Herald, an internal memo sent to Qantas
staff noted that mistakes to date have included “commencing take-off
with [the] park brake set”, “misidentification of altitude as airspeed”,
and “exterior inspection errors”.
Dr Brett Molesworth, from the University of New South Wales Science’s
School of Aviation said it was “highly unlikely” a pilot would forget
how to operate any of the flight controls. “But a pilot may forget an
action or a procedure as part of a sequence,” he said. Dr Molesworth is
an expert in Human Factors and Aviation Safety.
“For example, they might forget to release the park brake before
push-back from the gate or forget to turn on the anti-icing mechanism at
a particular altitude.
“It is also possible that proficiency of fine motor skills might be
affected, such as the ability to make quick and accurate control column
adjustments during a crosswind landing.”
Dr Molesworth said there had been examples of this reported in the US
during the Covid pandemic. “Performance will also be slower than before
being stood down,” he added.
“There are a number activities airlines can do to assist pilots, such
as have a training captain sit in on the initial flight or series of
flights; including an additional pilot on the first few flights; and
additional simulator time to allow pilots to redevelop and consolidate
Qantas said in response it had anticipated the rustiness caused by
long stand-downs and had proactively created a return-to-work programme
to bring its pilots back up to speed.
“Safety is our number one priority, and all of the data shows that
our pilots are coming back with the skills and confidence to do their
job safely,” the airline said.