It’s easy to get lost in our #MyCovidStory campaign. The 100 inspirational, heartfelt and courageous stories we’ve published have left their mark on me, my colleagues and I am sure many of you. Designed to spread some positivity around the aviation world, during some of the sector’s darkest days, I think we’ve achieved what we set out to deliver – and there have been many smiles, a few laughs, many tears and a feeling of pride throughout the journey.
I’m honoured to share #MyCovidStory as the 101, and last, contribution. Honoured because of the sense of pride I have in those 100 stories that went before me. The love of aviation, the determination to get back into the sky, the support for others, the dedication of aviation professionals who volunteered to help the international effort to fight covid in any way they could, the people who retrained or who took a completely new career path. There are so many stories that inspired me and I want to thank everyone who got involved.
We’ve shared stories from 30 countries across six continents. From Australia to Zimbabwe, the USA to the UAE, we have published the stories of women and men working in every corner of aviation.
It’s impossible to pick out favourites from an initiative like this. So, I won’t. But I want to thank David and Jeroen who were the inspiration behind this initiative. One a pilot and the other a crew training instructor, both grounded by covid. They remained desperate to get back in the skies throughout, but also put their time on the ground to good use, training as a paramedic, uber driving and setting up a tea and coffee shipping business – with coffees named after their favourite flying destinations which they never lost sight of.
I wrote at the start of the campaign about how pleased I was whenever I drank a cup of the ‘Helsinki’ or ‘Manchester’ blend coffee they provided. But that pleasure fails to come close to my feeling of pride when I saw their social media posts announcing their return to the skies. And this story alone encompasses the spirit and the theme of #MyCovidStory.
We wanted to encourage people. We had all heard about people giving up all hope of flying again and we published some stories of people sharing their personal struggles. When I look back at those stories, I am pleased to see so many people back where they belong, flying high.
The campaign has also developed friendships and I feel closely connected to people I have never met in person. Like pilot Patrick Pawelczak, who became an overnight internet sensation after he posted about his work in construction and as an Amazon delivery driver since he was grounded. Patrick and I have spent many hours chatting on the phone and sharing personal updates (like the recent birth of his second child) ever since we published his story. He is another one who is now back in the sky flying and he couldn’t be happier.
We’ve shared a diverse range of stories. From trainee glider pilot, Fiona, telling of her frustration when she wasn’t allowed to fly, to flight attendant Naila, describing her work at Starbucks, to 13 year old avgeek Harry who did everything he could to stay in touch with his aviation hobby, to Australian pilot Hunter who had to return to her homeland from the USA after losing her flying job.
I want to thank the AeroTime team for putting so much effort into this campaign to everyone who has been involved. We know from the feedback we have had, that this campaign has helped our industry colleagues to stay focused on the future and to keep the faith. Many are already back flying with more following them all the time and we celebrate every single one.
I don’t want this initiative to end but all good things must. And we will move on to our next big initiative, Aviation Heroes. It’s time to showcase the heroes in our industry and we would love to hear your suggestions and nominations. If you know someone who you think is worthy, let us know!
Stay safe and well. Thank you.
My Covid Story, by Richard Stephenson OBE, AeroTime CEO
It’s been a challenging couple of years. For everyone. I was excited to be offered the chance to become the new CEO of AeroTime. After six years as a director of the UK CAA, managing some of the biggest aviation crises in living memory, it was time for a change. I had told my boss that I would not be staying for the next big crisis (after dealing with the collapse of Monarch and Thomas Cook, not to mention Brexit and a raft of other challenges), but I failed to leave before covid struck.
When I accepted my new role, we were all hopeful that the worst of the pandemic was behind us. As it turns out, that was a pretty naive view. My plans to fly around, commute, visit aviators around the globe and still try to be at home whenever possible, quickly evaporated. I landed in Vilnius, Lithuania, in November 2020 and soon found myself in a new lockdown with little prospect of leaving. My plans to spend two weeks in London and two weeks abroad were simply never achievable without spending my entire life in quarantine.
So, unplanned and with just the suitcase I arrived with, I settled down to a new solo life in this beautiful part of northern eastern Europe. I’m not great on my own and I knew that I would soon be missing my other half and of course, my dog! But how would I manage without them? Time would tell.
Everyone in my new home rallied around, appreciating my plight. Moving from the centre of London to a city that is less than one tenth its size was daunting at first. But I soon came to love Vilnius. The architecture, the history, the selection of restaurants (to order takeaways from), the people, were all very welcoming and I soon settled in.
The weather, on the other hand, was far from welcoming. In my first months it dropped to minus 25. I had experienced minus 37 during an artic expedition some years earlier, but that was with professionals and all the kit you could possibly need. Now I was in minus 25 with just my jeans and a few jumpers and none of the right shops open to go and buy some thermals! Despite this, I started going on long walks with new friends in the city – always abiding by all the rules of the lockdown.
I wanted AeroTime to play its part in supporting the industry. The team quickly developed plans to launch two campaigns. Firstly, My Covid Story, and secondly, Register for Recovery – part of our recruitment business that wanted to get as many people signed up for the next round of aviation recruitment that we knew would come one day. One day soon we hoped. I’m so proud of the team for the work they have done on both initiatives, but we still have a long way to go.
The good news is that, after five months trying to remember how to go about life as a bachelor, my better half and my dog finally arrived in Vilnius. We were not going to fight the hand that had been dealt to us by the pandemic and we saw this as a new opportunity for a different life abroad. We’re still here and embracing the situation and the chance to experience new things. This is a theme we have heard repeated many times through this ‘My Covid Story’ campaign and I have been inspired by each and every one of those stories.
Most importantly, I am doing everything I can to play my part in helping our industry get back on track. Future projections remain optimistic, and we see signs of new aviation life appearing around the world. I am happy to be in a role where we can make a difference and help to focus on the positive opportunities that are developing all the time.
I’m constantly asked when I will return to London. I don’t know, but right now I have no desire to leave my new home. I’m never going to thank covid for anything, and there is nothing related to the pandemic that I or anyone I know will ever be thankful for. However, something brought me to a new life in Vilnius and, now that I have my family living here with me, a great new job and wonderful colleagues, the opportunity to help our industry and a raft of new life experiences, I have a lot to be grateful for and I hope others will find their own reasons, especially at this time of the year, to be grateful for what they have too – however unplanned it might be.