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.