The aviation sector, having enjoyed years of global tourism growth, was not prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent economic impact. Since the start of the ongoing global outbreak, airlines globally have been forced to cancel scheduled flights.
In recent months, there are more planes grounded than up in the sky.
With demand for travel at an all-time low, many airlines have been forced to take hard measures to ensure the sustainability of their businesses. This include retrenchment exercises, unpaid leave as well as extensive pay cuts.
And this brings up the discussion of the mental wellbeing of airline staff.
A joint statement by the European Pilot Peer Support Initiative (EPPSI) and their founding organisations said that Covid-19 crisis "exposes all flight crew, their relatives and passengers to particularly high psychological stressors".
"They range from operators restructuring, down-sizing or going bankrupt, flight crew losing jobs and operational/medical licenses, young pilots not being able to reimburse their training loans, to operators ramping up operations exceedingly fast to cope with increased travel demands after the end of prevention quarantine, ” said EPPSI.
Job insecurity, loss of income and potential loss of employment are some of the more obvious factors.
However, stress is also induced because of increased workload due to crisis situations in flight operations due to preventive measures.
"These stressors can lead to psychological strains such as anxiety or existential fears, which in turn might negatively affect crew’s ability to safely exercise the privileges of their license, ” said EPPSI.
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Boosting morale amid retrenchment and pay cut
Closer to home, it was estimated that mental health issues among employees has cost the country roughly RM14.46bil or 1% of Malaysia’s GDP prior to the Covid-19 crisis.
This figure is expected to be higher now given the psychological toll of the pandemic and its associated measures.
In light of the pandemic, local carriers have taken some measures to protect the wellbeing of their staff.
Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG) recently announced an initiative to provide their employees with psychological health support amid the pandemic.
The partnership with homegrown digital therapeutics company Naluri seeks to provide employees therapeutic care to protect their mental wellbeing.
"We understand the importance of mental wellbeing and believe that early screening is important so intervention can be timely, ” said MAG chief executive officer Captain Izham Ismail.
MAG consists of national carrier Malaysia Airlines, Firefly, MASwings, MABkargo, MAB Academy, and AeroDarat among others.
Naluri chief executive officer Azran Osman Rani said this partnership can help break down the stigma on mental health that is still prevalent in the country.
"We are proud of them for setting this example for employers in the tourism, aviation and hospitality industries – sectors that have been the worst affected by this pandemic," he said.
"Mental health is key to a company’s and a country’s overall growth," Azran added.
Apart from offering mental health support, some carriers are also trying to create alternative livelihood by offering positions in other subsidiaries within the company to grounded pilots and flight attendants.
Earlier in May, StarLifestyle reported on how pilots and other travel workers are weathering the pandemic environment.
AirAsia pilot Captain Lim Wei Lung for one, found his vocation grinding to a halt. It became more challenging when Malaysia put in place the movement control order (MCO) on March 18.
During this time, he offered to be a delivery partner with Teleport, the logistics arm of AirAsia. Cargo businesses are experiencing a surge in demand to transport medical and essential supplies.
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Tough times ahead for airlines
Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) reported that there is improved outlook for air traffic movements during the recovery MCO phase.
For the month of August, Malaysia operations registered 1.4 million passenger movements. Aircraft traffic movements also saw an increase of 7% to 24,209 when compared to the preceding month.
However, a recent spike in Covid-19 transmission in the country threaten to slow down the travel industry once again.
Malaysia has been reporting three-digit jump in daily Covid-19 cases.
Airbus recently conceded that outlook for the aviation industry has deteriorated again due to rising coronavirus infections and renewed travel restrictions.
The aircraft maker reported that airlines have slowed deliveries of new planes.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), global passenger traffic will not return to pre-Covid-19 levels until 2024.
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