Covid Taking Toll on Rotorcraft Employment

 - April 27, 2020, 11:27 AM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

The plunge in oil and gas prices combined with restrictions and other ramifications surrounding the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has taken a sharp toll on the rotorcraft market and employment, but industry officials said some companies are still hiring and job seekers should still reach out to potential employers.

Helicopter Association International officials and executives from job advertising-based website JSFirm delved into the precipitous turnaround in the rotorcraft job market and overviewed job-seeking tools during their webinar “Employment During the COVID-19 Pandemic” on Thursday.

The webinar itself underscores Covid's harm to the industry, said HAI president and CEO James Viola, noting the number of attendees outstripped the previous two HAI webinars combined, the majority of whom are currently unemployed. “Regrettably, it’s because most rotorcraft businesses are experiencing considerable economic and operational disruptions,” Viola said.

He pointed to the forecasts of pilots and mechanics shortages in early January and added, “Now just three months later, we faced the complete opposition situation. This is just one example of how the pandemic has quickly affected our industry.”

In February 2020, the industry faced its largest shortage of available talent “of all time,” agreed JSFirm managing director Sam Scanlon. “We wake up this morning and think ‘what the hell happened?’” he said. Across all industries, U.S. unemployment has surged from 3 percent to 22 percent. An unprecedented 6.6 million came off the payrolls in one week alone, Scanlon said.

In the helicopter market, he added, “oil and gas pricing has had a massive impact in just short order. It affects the helicopter industry specifically,” he said, particularly operators and manufacturers of medium and heavy helicopters. Manufacturers worry about the price of oil dropping below $50 per barrel, let alone the negative number it recently reached, he said.

JSFirm, which last year formed a partnership with HAI to highlight rotorcraft jobs on an HAI webpage and its newsfeed, has seen 47 percent of its companies pull back their job advertisements, said executive director Abbey Hutter. At the same time though, the number of helicopter industry job seekers on the website has increased 11 percent and overall website traffic has jumped 32 percent.

Having said that, Scanlon believes the market will pick up and the talent shortage will return once the pandemic and associated restrictions ease. While nearly half of prospective employers have pulled their advertisements, some are still looking for workers. The recent CARES Act paycheck protection program and other relief provisions further offer hope, he said. “As we move through April and as we reach out, we are finding more and more positives,” Scanlon added.

Scanlon and Hutter agreed that companies are always looking for strong talent, and even though they might not be hiring, job seekers should still establish contacts with employers now to be in a stronger position when hiring resumes. Hutter outlined a number of tools that job seekers can use on the website, such as job searches and alerts, resumé management, and a skills section.