Knut-Erik Risan was a successful experienced pilot working for one Norwegian airline. In March 2020, he, like many other pilots, was laid off due to the Covid crisis. Being based in London, the UK, and employed by a wholly-owned subsidiary on local terms, Knut was entitled to social guarantees neither in Norway nor in the United Kingdom.
A third-generation aviator
Being a third-generation aviator, inspired by his grandfather and father, who both were airline pilots, Knut began his career 20 years ago. After finishing the aircraft type training in the United States, the pilot moved back to Norway, his home country, to accomplish the conversion course. Soon after, Knut managed to get his first job and started to climb his career ladder.
Like the majority of pilots, Knut was always dreaming about the Captain’s seat. However, his career road was winding but rewarding. Knut successfully reached his goal and became the Captain on the Boeing 737 aircraft. Currently, he holds the licenses for Boeing 737, 787, and 777 jets.
“The 737 that’s a good type to have. It’s a good experience to have. I thought okay, I’ll give that a try. And I’ll see if I can get 500 hours on it and then I’ll go back to the other airline.10 years later, I’m still with that airline, or it’s actually 11 years. I liked it so much. That was a really good job. And it was very adaptive and progressive,” Knut shared his experience.
Soon after, the airline Knut was working for as the Captain, was expanding its network and launched a new base in the United States. In 2017, he received an offer to become a Base Captain in New York. However, after six months, Knut caught an opportunity to gain more experience while flying long-haul flights in other parts of the world.
“That was a very rewarding, interesting job: living in New York and doing the same things, but across the Atlantic. […] Afterwards, the airline offered me to be a Base Captain in Martinique, so we [ the family, – ed. note] spent a winter in the Caribbean flying to Canada, South America, New York, Florida.[…] Then I joined the long-haul with the experience flying in those parts of the world.”
The last flight to “a ghost town”
Knut says the Covid pandemic hit aviation overnight, without any warning signs. At the time the pandemic began, he was based in the United Kingdom and could not even imagine that the regular transatlantic flight from London to New York would be his last for an indefinite time.
The duality of social guarantees for the abroad-based pilot
After being furloughed, Knut noted that his savings have started to drastically shrink due to reduced income. On top of that, the pilot had major issues with his house. Bought in 2013, the house looked brand new, but there was extensive rot inside the walls which caused huge safety problems. Knut’s family even had to move out of the house twice within an hour’s notice, because it could collapse at any moment.
Living expenses for a family of three little children and costs for home repairs were quickly diminishing his savings while on furlough. However, his home country could not support the pilot.
“The national insurance system in Norway is sort of not very complicated. If you live in Norway, if you’re a Norwegian citizen, you’re a member of it. That’s just the way it works. However, if you’re a pilot or cabin crew, and your base is somewhere else, then you’re not a member. My income insurance was invalid because I wasn’t a member of the National Insurance in the country, which obviously I thought I was,” Knut said.
“The problem for me was that when I moved to the Gatwick base, [the UK], [the airline] employed me through local employment agencies to fulfill local employment law. In technical terms, I was a new employee. After over 10 years with the company, that’s how I was seen. […] When my income insurance didn’t work, I started asking around about the other insurances. Even my health insurance and everything was predicated on being a member of the National Insurance in the country you live in.”
Solving fatal challenges
Since Knut was based in the UK while working for the airline, but he didn’t live in the country, he could get his insurance neither in Norway nor in the UK. When the income stopped, Knut started to worry about his financial situation and managed to get a job at a Covid testing center as a driver in Oslo to become a member of the National Insurance in Norway.
“I was a driver, I had to drive doctors and nurses that would do the home tests.[…] This was a new facility that was being set up, ironically enough, in the old main airport of Oslo. I was a furloughed pilot in a furloughed airport doing the Covid stuff. […] I was trying to get a situation where I could be a member of the National Insurance in Norway, rather than in the UK. Eventually, I had to seek legal advice. Get a lawyer to help me figure this out.”
“I was a furloughed pilot in a furloughed airport doing the Covid stuff.”
While working in the Covid testing facility, the Captain realized that he also had a lot of tools and necessary skills to repair the old broken furniture in his garage. After a few attempts to fix some garden chairs and tables, Knut started collecting the furniture that people were giving away on the internet, restoring it, and reselling again. That is how the Captain reinvented himself as a furniture carpenter.
“That’s sort of where I’m at now, but with the Norwegian system for furlough, I was allowed to get some education. I’ve done one course in property development and investment. And now I’m doing my course to be a flight instructor because I might not be able to fly but I can use my 20 years of experience being a simulator instructor for the types that I have,” the Captain said, noting that in his life before, he has never spent so much time away from an aircraft.
“We don’t know if we can keep the house, we don’t know if we can keep living here. The debt is ever-increasing, credit cards are maxing out, and we’re waiting to go back to work. […] If the airline that we fly for collapses, then being an instructor is going to be a good thing. Keeping the spirits high is important.”
“I have two favorite quotes and they are both from Churchill. One is: you should never waste a good crisis. […] The other one is: failure is not fatal, success is not final. It’s the courage to continue that counts,” Knut says. “We’re trying not to waste this crisis, I’m spending time getting more education, getting trained for things preparing for what comes after, whilst dealing with the current situation.”
“I know that there are so many people in the same situation as I am. […] I find that the majority of [pilots] are doing things like driving trucks. Things that do not require a lot of skill initially, because it’s a temporary thing. And others are going completely the other way and getting additional skills, which I think is the best thing to do at the moment. But obviously, if you’re not staying sharp, your skills will fade.”
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