By Andrew Atkinson

Airlines face a huge task to get flights back into the skies after a year of mayhem across the industry, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that rocked the world.

Despite thousands of planes being grounded, pilots have maintained their flights hours – in order to retain their licences.

With Spain among the European countries awaiting the nod for flights to resume on a bigger scale this summer, rather more than the drip of flights since mid March 2020, pilots have been active in simulators.

EasyJet are using multi-million pound simulators, ahead of the expected demands of piloting an aircraft this summer, using identical cockpits and computer graphics, at Gatwick Airport.

At the West Sussex airport a plethora of planes have stood silent – with engines covered for protection – a far cry from almost 1,000 daily flights, pre-covid.

Fast-forward to March 2021 the $800bn airline industry is preparing to kick-start travel to re-open.

Gatwick’s chief executive Stewart Wingate said scaling up to suddenly handle a million plus more passengers a month this summer is a major operation – that will take many weeks to put into place.

Currently one of two terminals is shut, with just a flutter over a dozen flights daily. Airport shops remain empty.

With mixed messages as to when flights can re-commence in the UK, airlines are needing to know for sure when the green light go-ahead to travel will return.

Behind the scenes multi-million pound simulators are in use for piloting aircraft, with pilots using identical cockpits clocking up 20 hour days, to maintain experience amid planes being grounded in the face of coronavirus.

Pilots, first officers and cabin crew are working – employed by easyJet training programmes.

British Airways has 15 simulators at Heathrow, which have been in use daily to ensure pilots have worked the minimum number of hours to maintain licences.

BA and easyJet pilots have retained their licences, via a combination of simulators, rotating staff and flying commercial and maintenance flights.

The UK’s air traffic control service NATS have also been using simulators.

At a time of redundancies within the industry and employees being furloughed, dozens of pilots have maintained behind scenes activities.

Michael O’Leary, Ryanair chief executive, has announced their airline’s schedule is to fly 80% of pre-Covid levels – from mid-June – that includes flights to and from the UK to Alicante-Elche airport.

Image: Simulators at the London Pilot School