In normal times being a pilot is a demanding job. Likewise for being a parent. But what’s it like during these unprecedented times? Francesco Patella speaks on what it’s like to be a pilot and a dad during COVID-19.
Hello, my name is Francesco Patella and I am a Boeing 737-800 Captain and CAE Airbus A320 Instructor/Examiner. I fell in love with aviation in April 2001 when I took my first flight in a small Cessna. At that moment, my dream of becoming a pilot began and today I am living my dream.
My beginnings as a pilot weren’t easy. I went through 9/11 and paid for my pilot’s license by making thousands of pizzas in a pizzeria in Rome. Despite it being hard work, making pizza was a great job. Without even being aware, I began to practice teamwork concepts, which are very useful in aviation like the importance of clear communications. During that period of time, I also met my wife, the love of my life and the mum of my two daughters.
When I received my pilot license, I had the opportunity to live and work overseas and spent nearly 10 years in Africa and Vietnam before returning to work in my home country of Italy.
During COVID, as well as many other pilots, my job was affected by big reductions in flight hours and salary cuts. Here in Italy we went through a strict lockdown and therefore, all Italian Ryanair pilots spent more than three months grounded. Despite that, I am fortunate to work in a big and strong company that guaranteed to maintain our jobs. Some colleagues and friends working in small airlines, Middle East or Chinese companies found themselves without a job suddenly, being forced to reinvent themselves to keep going or take an early retirement from aviation.
The good news is that I am already back flying and I am very happy about that.
What makes pilots special is not what we do. We all have a unique story about why and how we became a pilot. Listen to any of these stories and you will feel the passion, love, motivation, and spirit of sacrifice for a job that is unlike any other in the world.
For us pilots, flying is not only our job but also our passion and lifestyle. Flying is also the best way for us to stay current and maintain our skills.
These feelings come together with the uncertainty about the economic situation and the concern about the virus that we all have, and it becomes very difficult and worrying.
The positive side is that as a CAE instructor, I carried on delivering virtual classes for ATPL students during the lockdown. Virtual training was something completely new to me and I took this as an opportunity to learn different teaching techniques and to get more experienced.
I discovered that virtual training is a new stage to instruction, and it represents another great challenge for us pilots and instructors to share our knowledge and experience through virtual technology. I like to take this as another sign that aviation will always find out the way to grow up and evolve.
Being a pilot is not the easiest job when it comes to parenting, mostly because I am often away from home. But technology can be great when it comes to staying connected with my children, no matter where flying takes me. Using the internet allowed me to hear my eldest daughter, Sofia, calling me dad for the first time when I was 10,000 km away!
For me, the current situation has been a blessing in disguise. It has been a huge opportunity to strengthen my parenting and deepen family bonds. During the lockdown, I was able to gain an even greater appreciation and understanding of what family means. We woke up and went to sleep every day together. I have seen my babies growing day after day and I happily spent so much time with my wife back again. Basically, I’ve been able to enjoy every single moment of every day with my family without any of the hustle and bustle of regular times!
Yes, I’d like to finish with a message of hope.
Despite the harshness of the situation and how strongly the pandemic has impacted aviation, experience has taught us that while aviation can slow down, it will never stop. Having some free time now can represent an opportunity for people like myself who have dedicated their entire life to aviation, to also enjoy their families.
Aviation will rebound, and all of us will go back to flying and keep our dream jobs alive.
Regarding parenting, although we can’t control everything that comes our way, we can control how we react to our experiences. As parents, we set the tone in the home and our attitude will echo in your children. Now more than ever, we need to dedicate time to be present with our children. With some people are working from home, it can be incredibly hard to always be present. But something as simple as having everyone eat together for dinner provides tremendous value. So, brainstorm things that you can do as a family. Doing things together can be incredibly nurturing especially during these times. Also, it’s a good idea to notice and pay attention to your blessings and take stock of the little things in life that bring joy to us all, like sunshine and fresh air. Finally, hope and gratitude have profound impacts on our physical, mental and emotional health. So stay positive, and keep your eyes on the sky.
welcome aboard the new airside
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