Airlines are like pumps. Money pumps. I have used this analogy to explain how airlines can go from billions in profits to the brink of disaster in seemingly no time at all. I cannot take credit for it but I don’t remember where or who to attribute it to. But it is so relevant right now.
I’m flashing back to 9/11 – I remember it so well. I was flying for a start-up airline based in Dallas, Texas. That airline went out of business and many others struggled to keep going; my college friend was killed – he was the first officer on the aircraft that flew into the Pentagon; I switched careers from being a pilot to being a part of this magazine because I could not find work flying. I have thought a lot about that time and how it feels so strikingly similar. You probably have similar tales of woe from that time period. Maybe you have had a flashback or two as well.
However, this is different and potentially even worse.
Let me go back to the pump analogy. What is a pump? You all know better than most people since you are called upon to occasionally fix them. A pump is a mechanical device using suction or pressure to raise or move liquids, compress gases, or force air into inflatable objects such as tires, one definition states. But the analogy to airlines being money pumps works. Think back to your training days and envision that pump. Money is sucked into the airline on one side. Lots of it. And on the other side, lots of money goes out. The airline itself is the pump in the middle pulling the money in from fares and fees for upwards of a billion passengers in a year.
But to do that work, the airlines must expend a lot of money. These expenditures include aircraft leases and payments; salaries of all employees that include the pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, gate agents, rampers, executives and all others; fuel; maintenance; fees and on and on.
When things are going well, there is a little siphon you can open up and allow the profits to flow out. But what happens when a pump doesn’t get the influx needed to run? With nothing coming in and everything going out, the chamber becomes empty. Then it cavitates. Cavitation occurs when the liquid in a pump turns to a vapor causing excessive vibration, which can cause rotating parts, such as the impeller, to contact non-rotating parts, such as the wear plates or wear rings, resulting in damage.
This is what is happening now to the airlines. It happened during the time right after 9/11 as well. But it is even worse now, because the airlines were only grounded for a few days after 9/11. Even though passenger traffic took a hit then and fewer people were flying, once the airways were reopened, people did continue to fly.
Right now, most airlines have drastically reduced their operations due to the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions put in place by governments to slow the progression of the disease. This has been going on for days and will likely continue on for many more, until the pandemic has slowed down enough for our healthcare system to safely be able to handle those that become ill from COVID-19. We are trying to prevent what happened in Italy and other countries, which is overwhelming the hospitals and healthcare systems in the U. S. It is a worthy and noble goal. No one in their right mind would want to continue to fly around potentially spreading the coronavirus rampantly with total disregard for the health of our nation, family and friends. It is one hell of a dilemma.
Many businesses, not just aviation are being severely impacted as well, such as restaurants, hotels and many others. Our privately held, relatively small media company has been impacted. We were scheduled to hold our annual event, Aerospace Tech Week in Toulouse, France in March. We were on track for a record breaking event in terms of both exhibitors and attendees. We held our breath and watched as France announced their first cases followed by restrictions of gatherings of 1000, then fewer and fewer until it became clear. We would have to cancel.
I tell you that not to evoke sympathy. But to tell you, as I am sure you have heard already, we are truly in this together. We want to acknowledge that depending on the length of time this goes on, aviation, MRO and all ancillary businesses will take a hard hit.
Please let me know if our publication can be of assistance in any way. We, as always, want to be a partner to aviation maintenance businesses, to help you tell our readers about what you are doing, how you are doing and how you can serve them.
We will continue to let the industry know what you are doing or if you have services/products to market. The aviation maintenance, MRO, testing, service and support businesses that you run, work for and work with are our family and we will do everything we can to help you survive this time so that, once it is over, we can begin the process of rebuilding, strengthening and returning to the healthy, profitable businesses we all are.