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Suspension of Flights and Impact on Engineers’ Skills

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the whole world and all areas of business, causing financial and job losses. Moreover, pandemics bring changes in the operations of industries due to the need to adapt to new working conditions and provide safe services. However, one of the hardest-hit industries was aviation, as the reduction in demand and the restriction of international traffic caused losses of US$419 billion of revenue in 2020 for airlines of 57 countries (Abate, Christidis, and Purwanto, 2020). Several airlines went bankrupt, while others suffer significant financial losses that take years to recover (Dube, Nhamo, and Chikodzi, 2021). At the same time, the problem covered not only passenger transportation and airport operations but also all aviation areas such as engineering and aircraft maintenance. The lack of demand also affected the work responsibilities of the staff as the amount of work and number of jobs decreased significantly.

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A literature review demonstrates that the suspension of flights resulted in a decline in the skills of aviation professionals, which subsequently led to an increased number of incidents. However, most research focuses on pilot skills, while the competence of such key personnel in the safety of flights as engineers has been insufficiently studied. Consequently, this dissertation is directed at the identification of the engineer’s skills deterioration caused by the suspension of flight operations due to COVID-19 leading to a number of incidents post back to operation to improve aviation safety.

The literature review used scientific sources and data from official aviation organizations and associations to analyze the coverage of the topic. Although all sources are of high quality, they study issues related to the aviation industry but do not sufficiently cover the details of aviation engineers’ work. For this reason, research objectives were formed based on the gaps in the literature. The main objectives are to study the impact of flight operations suspension on the skills of aviation engineers, their relationship to the number of accidents, as well as to determine the factors influencing the deterioration of skills. The expected outcomes of the study are to identify the factors contributing to the decline of the skills of engineers due to the suspension of flight operations and their impact on the safety of the aviation industry. Based on the results, conclusions and recommendations will be generated to improve the skills of aviation engineers to work during a pandemic and return to the previous pace and scale of operations successfully.

The method chosen to meet the objectives of the study is qualitative research based on the interpretivism (Constructivism) philosophy and an inductive approach to data analysis. This method will help to study new trends, form theories, and avoid bias since the impact of the pandemic is unprecedented in the history of aviation. At the same time, a method of collecting information such as interviewing participants will help qualitatively analyze the impact of known and unexplored factors on the skills of aviation engineers. The chapters of the paper, as well as the work plan for the dissertation, which will begin on September 1, 2021, have also been discussed.

Literature Review

The topic of the COVID-19 pandemic impact on the aviation industry already has enough journalistic and scientific articles and reports; however, as the aviation industry is complex, there are still gaps in the literature. The most studied are the factors affecting aviation safety, which define the basic terms and scope of this study. For example, Boyd (2017) examines factors that contribute to the safety of general aviation and highlights improved aircraft technical equipment, timely aircraft maintenance, scenario-based training, and pilot health checks. These measures help to diminish the impact of human and external factors reducing the likelihood of accidents. At the same time. Thoroman et al. (2018) highlights similar aspects but notes that the main elements are communication and a control loop, which prevent accidents. Nevertheless, these articles are more focused on the factors influencing the work of pilots, and although the technical component is discussed, the work of engineers remains out of focus.

The literature and data on the impact of COVID-19 on aviation are also widespread across most aviation areas, and trends are of concern. Although the number of flights dropped significantly in 2020, the total number of accidents per million rose to 1.71, higher than the average of 1.38 over the past five years (IATA, 2021). This trend continues, since in 2021, there have already been six accidents with 90 fatalities in total (“Accident statistics,” 2021). Olaganathan and Amihan (2021) also study the impact of COVID-19 on pilots’ proficiency, experimenting, and analyzing, and determine that lack of consistent training and practice has worsened pilot skills and led to a higher rate of incidents.

In addition, many authors explore the impact of flight suspension on various areas of the aircraft industry. For example, Gottipati et al. (2021, p. 0214) analyzed articles on the effects of the pandemic on the airline industry and found that the word “suspension” is often used in negative sentiment. However, most of the articles do not have a precise definition of “long suspension,” but study the global lockdown period in which 90% of flights were terminated between February and April 2020 (Narang and Choo, 2021; Nhamo, Dube and Chikodzi, 2020). Consequently, a period of three months or more can be considered a long-term suspension.

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At the same time, deterioration in engineering skills and related factors is partially represented in the literature compared to analysis of pilot skills. For example, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) (2021), in its report, analyzes the deterioration in the skills of the main groups of aviation specialists, including maintenance engineers. EASA also defines skill degradation and contributing factors that will be used in the paper. EASA (2021, p.2) defines skill deterioration as the decay of proficiency that “can create a direct safety risk, as accuracy, speed and ultimately the effectiveness of task performance deteriorates with the lack of practice”. EASA (2021, p.4) also highlights some factors, such as self-overestimation or self-underestimation of specialists, the stress associated with wellbeing, and concerns due to COVID-19, lack of practice, and overlearning. However, the report provides only a general idea of ​​the impact of various causes and factors on the skills of engineers.

Furthermore, a review of sources directly or indirectly related to the work of aviation engineers provides insight into other factors that may affect their skills. For example, Widodo et al. (2021) note that work stress and COVID-19 stress simultaneously affect the productivity and skills of aviation workers, although the impact of COVID-19 is more significant. Belhadi et al. (2020) note that the aviation industry has faced supply chain challenges, which, coupled with reduced flight demand, has reduced the workload and increased stress on aviation engineers. Serrano and Kazda (2021) also find that forced aircraft parking and storing have changed the way engineers approach maintenance since the schedule of inspections and their necessity is difficult to determine for unused vehicles. In addition, as noted by the National Business Aviation Association (n.d), an important issue is the safety of engineers on the ground during aircraft maintenance, but without practice, safety skills and rules can deteriorate. Therefore, all of these factors must be considered to study the deterioration of aviation engineers’ skills due to COVID-19.

Therefore, a review of the literature demonstrates that although certain factors related to aviation safety, the impact of the pandemic, and the skills of aviation engineers have been studied, there are still significant gaps. First, specific causes and factors such as COVID-19 related stress, changes in maintenance schedules, or lack of adequate training and practice have not been studied or examined superficially. Second, the detailed data on the relationship between deteriorated skills of engineers and accidents during flight and maintenance of equipment are underrepresented and insufficiently analyzed. Thirdly, a qualitative analysis of the factors affecting the work of engineers has not been carried out. Finally, although there are general recommendations for improving the skills of engineers during a pandemic, specific steps based on qualitative analysis are not defined (EUASA, 2021, p. 15). Consequently, these gaps will be encountered in future research.


The literature review and gaps to current knowledge define the following objectives of this study:

  • Investigate the impact of the suspension of flight operations due to covid19 on engineers’ skills.
  • Explore the impact of the suspension of flight operations due to covid19 on the deterioration of engineers’ skills.
  • Examine the impact of deteriorating engineering skills on aviation safety.
  • Analyze the factors influencing the decline of engineers’ skills.
  • Investigate factors contributing to the keeping and improving engineers’ skills during the suspension of flight operations due to COVID-19.
  • Develop recommendations to help maintain the skills of engineers during the suspension of flight operations due to covid19.

Project Outcomes

Since this project is aimed at studying the characteristics of the work and skills of engineers in a pandemic, the expected results will have theoretical and practical applications. First, the factors influencing the skills of engineers working in the aviation industry will be studied and highlighted. Second, the factors that contribute to the decline in engineering skills, such as not having to practice skills over a long period of time, will be identified. Third, the factors that contribute to the maintenance and enhancement of the skills of engineers will be determined. Finally, based on the facts studied, a list of recommendations will be formulated to improve the skills of engineers in the event of suspension of flight operations due to external reasons.

Interest in Project

This project has several aspects of interest for me as a professional. Firstly, many scientific and journalistic sources note the negative effect of the pandemic on the aviation industry, in particular on the pilots and support personnel of airlines and airports. However, engineers who are largely responsible for flight safety remain outside the focus of attention. Consequently, the question of how the decline in demand for aircraft design and maintenance, as well as the stress associated with new working conditions, affects engineers’ skills, is an interesting question to study. Secondly, since the good state of aircraft is one of the main safety factors, it is also interesting what measures could improve the efficiency and quality of the engineers’ work. Moreover, it is unclear how the suspension of flights as an external factor can be compared or considered as the human factor. All these questions are key for the aviation industry and me as a professional in this field; thus, they are interesting for me as a researcher.

Key Questions of the Project

The key questions of the project are:

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  • How suspension of flight operations due to covid19 influenced the engineers’ skills?
  • What is a connection between deteriorating engineering skills on aviation safety?
  • What factors influenced the deterioration of engineers’ skills?
  • What factors and measures can contribute to keeping and improving engineers’ skills?

Research Methods

This research will be based on qualitative research, and the primary collection method will be interviews with open-ended questions and elaborated answers. This method is most appropriate for the topic of study since the deterioration of the skills of aviation engineers due to the COVID-19 pandemic has not been sufficiently studied to base the question on the current theory and facts. A qualitative interview will allow the researcher to hear the opinion of the respondents without relying on their assumptions and experience. At the same time, clarifying questions and detailed answers of respondents can give unexpected insights necessary to understand the topic and form recommendations. Therefore, the main task of the researcher is to identify the underlying trends and issues, which is possible using qualitative research.

For the same reason, the philosophy of research is the Interpretivism (Constructivism) philosophy. This philosophy assumes that it is not possible to understand the social world by principles, but it can be interpreted from subjective observations (Žukauskas, Vveinhardt and Andriukaitienė, 2018, p.123). The researcher in this process acts as an observer and interpreter, generalizing the subjective conclusions of the respondents and highlighting their common features.

This philosophy brings personal values and also explores the context and setting of the study, which is necessary for a deep understanding of the topic being studied. Since the purpose of this study is to study the changes brought about by the pandemic and the reduction in the number of flights, this approach is most appropriate. The skills of engineers could be influenced by various factors, which could have different effects depending on the person’s personality. For this reason, the comparison of subjective opinions is most appropriate since it covers various factors that the researcher may have missed. Consequently, the researcher will be able to identify new trends or compare them with the studied factors in the deterioration of pilot skills, as the impact of the pandemic on the aviation industry is unprecedented.

The unprecedentedness of the situation studied in the paper also demonstrates the need for an inductive learning approach. The inductive approach assumes that researchers observe certain factors and look for patterns to formulate a general theory (Chandra and Shang, 2019, p.92). Since the aviation industry and engineering, in particular, are the first to face such crises as a consequence of the pandemic, this approach is most appropriate, as it will help identify new trends.

However, the inductive approach does not deny the application of theories, as they can be helpful in interpretation and help the researcher understand and generalize observations. In other words, theories, such as learning or working in a stressful environment, can be suitable for communicating and explaining observations. Moreover, since one of the objectives of the study is to formulate recommendations for improving the skills of engineers and improving safety in aviation, identifying patterns is necessary to meet problematic aspects. Thus, the fact that the topic of the deterioration of the skills of aviation engineers due to the COVID-19 pandemic has not been adequately studied demonstrates the need for an inductive research approach.

Data Collection

This study will use primary and secondary sources of information. Primary data will be collected through interviews with participants, which will be conducted using emerging data collection approaches. The interviews will consist of open-ended questions to track general trends from the respondents’ answers and form general theories. Secondary sources such as scientific articles, books, reports of state and public agencies will be used to study existing theories and their application in the course of interpreting the results. These types of data will help discover current trends in engineering and interpret them adequately to make recommendations.

Dissertation Chapters

The dissertation will have the following structure:

  1. Abstract.
  2. Introduction.
  3. Literature Review.
  4. Research Methodology.
  5. Data Analysis.
  6. Results.
  7. Conclusion.
  8. Bibliography.

Plan of Work

The work on the dissertation will begin on September 1st, 2021, and the planned final point is December 11th, 2021. Stages and activities are scheduled according to the complexity of their implementation and are described in a Gantt chart (Figure 1).

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Dissertation Timeline Gantt Chart.
Figure 1. Dissertation Timeline Gantt Chart.

Reference List

Abate, M., Christidis. P. and Purwanto, A.J. (2020) ‘Government support to airlines in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic’. Journal of Air Transport Management, 89, pp. 1-15. Web.

Accident statistics (2021). Web.

Belhadi, A. et al. (2021) ‘Manufacturing and service supply chain resilience to the COVID-19 outbreak: lessons learned from the automobile and airline industries’. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 163, pp. 1-48. Web.

Boyd, D.D. (2017) ‘A review of general aviation safety (1984–2017)’. Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance, 88(7), pp. 657-664. Web.

Chandra, Y. and Shang, L. (2018) Qualitative research using R: a systematic approach. Cham: Springer.

Dube, K., Nhamo, G. and Chikodzi, D. (2021) ‘COVID-19 pandemic and prospects for recovery of the global aviation industry’. Journal of Air Transport Management, 92. Web.

European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Safety issue report – skills and knowledge degradation due to lack of recent practice. Web.

Gottipati et al. (2020) ‘Exploring the impact of COVID-19 on aviation industry: a text mining approach’, Proceeding of 11th IEEE annual information technology, electronics and mobile communication conference (IEMCON), Vancouver, BC, Canada. Web.

IATA (2021) ‘IATA releases 2020 safety report, details airline safety performance’. Web.

Narang, S. and Choo, K.Y. (2021) ‘Flight status – ‘grounded indefinitely’: an analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on commercial aviation’, Journal of Student Research, 10(1), pp. 1-13.

National Business Aviation Association (n.d) ‘2021-2022 NBAA top safety focus areas’. NBAAA. Web.

Nhamo G., Dube K. and Chikodzi D. (2020) Counting the cost of COVID-19 on the global tourism industry. Cham: Springer.

Olaganathan, R., & Amihan, R. H. (2021). Impact of COVID -19 on pilot proficiency – a risk analysis. Global Journal of Engineering and Technology Advances, 06(03), pp. 001-013. Web.

Serrano, F. and Kazda, A. (2021) ‘COVID-19 grounded aircraft – parking and storing”. Communications – Scientific letters of the University of Zilina, 23(2), pp. A103-A115. Web.

Thoroman et al. (2018) ‘What went right? An analysis of the protective factors in aviation near misses’. Ergonomics and Human Factors in Aviation, 62(2), pp.192-203. Web.

Widodo, A.W. et al. (2021) ‘The impact of job stress on employee productivity during Covid-19 pandemic at the aviation industry’, Proceeding of 4th international conference on eco engineering development, Banten, Indonesia. Web.

Žukauskas, P., Vveinhardt, J. and Andriukaitienė, R. (2018) Management culture and corporate social responsibility. London: IntechOpen.

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