Grounded Pilots Land Jobs In Agriculture


Grounded pilots are literally going back to the land in Australia where they’re finding work driving huge agricultural harvesters. Australia is expecting a bumper crop of grains and other commodities at the same time that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing an acute labor shortage on farms. And while it might seem like a strange transition from the cockpit of an airliner to the cab of lumbering farm machine, there are a lot of parallel skills, said farmer Amanda Thomas, who set up a Facebook page to recruit out-of-work pilots. “Pilots spend a lot of time operating machinery. That’s kind of their core job,” Thomas told the Guardian. “And whether it’s an airplane or an agricultural machine, it’s all the same.”

Modern farm equipment has some technology that will be familiar to pilots. Most of the huge harvesters have GPS receivers connected to autopilots that ensure the machines scour the fields efficiently. The operator monitors those and other systems as the machine cruises over the landscape. Andrew King has traded the left seat of Hainan Airlines aircraft for the cab of a harvester and he’s looking forward to getting back to work. “They’ve recognized the transferability of the skillset of an airline pilot, someone who could operate heavy equipment and learn large amounts of information quickly and remain proficient,” he said.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. What pilot hasn’t thought about running a huge combine while flying over the farms or driving past on the interstate? Same with heavy mining equipment, freight trains or even 18 wheelers. I think majority of pilots have on some level, an urge to operate machinery. Hopefully those pilots can get back to flying soon having checked something off their bucket list.