With the Covid-19 pandemic halting many of the world’s commercial airline flights, some in the aviation industry have had to find alternative ways to earn an income while grounded.
Pilots are no exception.
In Thailand, where domestic tourism is only just starting to pick up this month following an easing in lockdown restrictions, some aviators have shifted from the skies to the roads, taking on jobs delivering food by motorbike or as drivers for car-hailing apps.
These include co-pilot Nakarin Inta, who has been a commercial pilot for about four years. He’s now delivering orders for Line Man, a local messenger app.
“Some [airline staff] have been on leave without pay,” he tells CNN Travel. “And for most of us the income has been cut off more than 70%. I still have expenses every month so I had to find something on my own.”
As in many other global cities, Bangkok’s food delivery service apps have surged in popularity due to lockdown measures imposed by the Thai government in March. Following the lead of a fellow pilot, Inta realized he could generate a small income to support his wife and four-year-old daughter by delivering food orders on his motorbike.
“I thought, I cannot just sit there and wait for help. I have to fight for my family. I have to do something and I have both hands, I have my motorbike so I found my part-time job. And now I am a food delivery man. “
Following a life-long dream
The 42-year-old has always dreamed of a life in the cockpit but, fearing economic instability in the aviation industry, held back on pursuing that dream for years.
About five years ago, however, he decided to go for it. Witnessing the rise of low-cost carriers in Thailand, he studied for his commercial pilot degree and soon after got a job with Thai Lion Air.
“To be a pilot is always in my dreams when I was a child,” he says.
“The best thing is traveling around the world and seeing so many people – I see the passengers smile when I dress up and go to the airport. I see their smile when they meet each other or they’re traveling to their vacation to beaches or mountains. And, more than everything, I can earn some money to support my family.”
As a pilot, Inta says he would normally earn between US$6,000 to $8,000 a month.
Now, grounded by the Covid-19 pandemic since mid-March, he says making $30 a day would be a big win for him.
And he’s not alone. With multiple airlines reducing flights to the bare minimum, Inta says he knows of more than 50 Thai pilots – including some personal friends – now working either as food delivery men, ride-hailing app drivers or food vendors while waiting to resume their regular jobs again.
Some are even using their luxury vehicles for their part-time job, such as BMW motorbikes and sedans, says Inta.
He and his friends have not been laid off, but their salaries are based on their flight assignments.
“I think everybody [was impacted] by Covid-19, everyone in the world, but look at the one beside you, your loved ones. You have to fight for them and fight for yourself,” says the pilot.
“The first time I got an order and delivered it to the customer, the feeling was great. I am proud. I can do it. “
In terms of getting back into the sky, Inta is optimistic he’ll soon return to his “office.”
With the Thai government now in the early stages of relaunching domestic tourism, flights will be increased.
Inta says he’s scheduled to take a four-day pilot refresher program in August, and then he can likely start working again.
“I miss every moment of my career,” he says. “I miss my colleagues, my captain, my cabin crew and dispatchers and all the staffs since we have worked together as a team for many years. And, mostly, I miss my office in the sky.”