It’s funny looking back on it now, but I recall it so clearly. As the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up last year, I along with many others, thought to myself ‘this will be over by Christmas’. Famous last words.

Fast forward to today, we are well in to 2021 and the damn thing is still making life difficult. Of course, in comparison to those overseas we have got off lightly. Compared to those who have actually suffered the disease or a loss, I have only had to cope with the inconvenience and impact that COVID-19 has had on what I do. During the course of a normal year, I would fly many times, whether it was in my own light aircraft, other aircraft or a commercial airline.

Looking back at 2019, I made two international trips, half a dozen interstate trips and a bunch of local flights. Just another year. But little did we know then, it wasn’t. It was the last normal year. This year, even with the vaccine, I can’t see international travel returning to anything like normal levels. Domestic flights will start to ramp up again, but it will be a slow clawback to where we were just 18 months ago.

However, when it does come back, and it will, there will be terrific demand for pilots. And they won’t be there. The pilot training funnel for the major airlines is almost empty. Even if there were places, many budding pilots have had to re-think their career in light of the pandemic. Many pilots have accepted early retirement or gone to seek other employment.

Unlike previous interruptions to the supply of trained pilots, like the pilot’s dispute of the 1980s and the Ansett collapse a decade later, this is an international event. Right now in Australia, it goes without saying that we are better placed than almost every other country when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we can’t get too self-congratulatory on that, being an island certainly helps. What it does mean is that we are rapidly returning to a point where we can undertake ‘normal’ training.

Australia is blessed with a lot of wide-open spaces and sunny weather, the perfect cradle for flight schools. RAAus has become the starting point for many aviation careers. The relatively low cost of taking an ab-initio student from zero hours to pilot makes it an obvious choice.

As such, RAAus will be the starting point for pilots not only in Australia but also the rest of the world in the years to come. Australia has an opportunity here. Australian pilots and Australian-trained pilots have always been well-regarded in international markets. We were already a favoured training location for many airlines. As we emerge from COVID-19, Australia can cement itself as a leading provider of aviation training and pilots to the rest of the world.

As pilots, we need to be supportive of the training schools and airports that host them. You need to be understanding and charitable to those young pilots making bad circuits and poor radio calls. Remember that we in Australia are showing them how to be a pilot and, that one day, you might reap the benefit. I bumped into a twin jet pilot in the terminal at Mildura who had very politely allowed us to land before him. He said “Nice Tecnam. I trained on them”. Pilots are pilots. It’s up to us to pass that on.