The ‘sweet spot’ of a backup plan

Pilot engineers a career change after pandemic grounded aviation


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Every now and then, Brad Litviak gets vivid flashbacks of spending time flying thousands of feet above the ground.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/06/2021 (610 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Every now and then, Brad Litviak gets vivid flashbacks of spending time flying thousands of feet above the ground.

It’s a place deep in the clouds, he says, where a human really isn’t logically supposed to be. And any person you do see beneath looks like a tiny speck in a grand-scale topography that never stops feeling like a fever dream.

Growing up, this was all Litviak wanted to do. He never failed to tire himself out, thinking how cool it would be to one day become a pilot. “Airplanes were this kind of fascinating thing that I couldn’t get enough of,” he said.

“Even just the idea of this special freedom you have in the air is breathtaking. I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t be in awe of that.”

For years, that’s exactly what Litviak did — chasing his ambitions to be able to fly.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Call it good intuition or a perfect feeling in his gut, but Litviak's idea to start engineering school at the University of Manitoba just months before the pandemic as a backup worked well in his favour.

He moved all the way to South Africa to get his commercial licence in 2012. And before he got his credentials equalized to meet Canadian standards, Litviak had already gotten his private licence in 2005, just after he’d finished high school.

It took a lot of money out of his pocket, coupled with hours and hours of laborious training. But soon enough, Litviak began flying planes himself, and even got a stable job as a pilot at Manitoba-based Fast Air. “It was the happiest I’d ever been,” he said.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic happened.

Entire aviation fleets were laid off. Manufacturers lost all major contracts, forcing staffers to be furloughed without any dates of return. Airport workers still don’t know when they will get their jobs back. More than 400,000 people in the global sector are suggested to have been affected.

Air Canada, the country’s largest carrier, lost nearly $4 billion over the course of just months, while the International Air Transport Association estimates losses for airlines at $118.5 billion. And according to Statistics Canada, the operating revenue of the country’s largest carriers plunged by 68.4 per cent in 2020.

Yet, 35-year-old Litviak wasn’t exactly impacted directly by this devastating erosion of the industry. The Winnipegger, originally from Edmonton, found himself in the “sweet spot” of a Plan B when coronavirus cases started to arrive in Canada.

SUPPLIED Litviak, a pilot, is now in engineering school after COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the aviation industry.

Call it good intuition or a perfect feeling in his gut, but Litviak had the idea to start engineering school at the University of Manitoba just a year or so before the early lockdowns of 2020.

“It was a backup plan,” he told the Free Press. “I’d heard many horror stories over the years that if you lose your medical certification as a pilot — which is really, really common — you don’t have many other options to go back to your job. And I didn’t want that to be me, in case that or any other crisis happened for aviation.”

So, by the time the pandemic first started, Litviak was already well into his university courses. He’d slowed down his piloting career and was on his way to get another degree.

“But at the time,” he said, “I wasn’t exactly anticipating something this catastrophic would happen around the world.

“Actually, I would get kind of sad from time to time, when I first started engineering. Because here I was, hanging back for a very tentative idea that might not even pan out, while seeing all these people that kept getting accelerated in their careers.”

Now, 15 months later, Litviak has already completed most of his studies and he doesn’t regret following his early instincts one bit.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Brad Litviak works on his 3-D creations in his basement workshop.

He’s not sure when he’ll be able to fly again, for now though Litviak has hope that he’ll still have a career when all this is over — even if that is as an engineer and not a pilot.

And at the moment, he’s using those same great instincts to sell 3-D constructions part-time while he finishes up school.

From selling printed cookie cutters to making profit off of bike or car parts, and even modelling toys with moulds, Litviak’s found himself a great side hustle as a niche in the city that not many people are fulfilling.

His partner Ally Kashty, an elementary school teacher in Winnipeg, couldn’t be prouder. When he first told her he wanted to quit flying, she said it was news to her. But now, not so much.

“Many of his friends are now laid off or quitting flying entirely because once aviation bounces back, the seniority will cause many new pilots to be out of luck for quite some time,” Kashty said. “Brad proved us all wrong and this is why it’s so important to have a Plan B.”

Twitter: @temurdur

SUPPLIED Litviak moved to South Africa in 2012 to get his commercial pilot's licence. He's had his private licence since 2005.
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