Jet pilot who lost his job in lockdown earns MORE as a lorry driver

Jet pilot, 37, who lost his job in lockdown when Flybe collapsed now earns MORE as a lorry driver in Britain’s HGV crisis

  • Pilot Aaron Leventhal, 37, lost his job during lockdown when Flybe collapsed
  • But he has now revealed he earns more as a lorry driver in Britain’s HGV crisis
  • Salary at Flybe was £30,000, but freelance truckers are now earning £40,000

A jet pilot who lost his job during lockdown when budget airline Flybe collapsed has revealed he earns more as a lorry driver in Britain’s HGV crisis. 

Former soldier Aaron Leventhal, 37, said the country is ‘desperate for deliveries’ with pay rocketing for experienced lorry drivers.

The father-of-one from Loughor, Swansea gained his HGV licence driving trucks in the British Army, then spent 10 years becoming a jet pilot. But he lost his job when Flybe collapsed so decided to go back on the road as a freelance driver delivering essential food and fuel to supermarkets.

The first officer’s pilot salary at Flybe was £30,000 a year, but freelance truckers are now earning £40,000-a-year filling the gaps in the national shortage of HGV drivers.

Father-of-one Mr Leventhal said: ‘Companies are desperate to get drivers and they will pay more. I can’t see it coming down too much because it’s kind of a trap. 

‘I’ve had emails coming through in the last six months paying up to £30-an-hour.’

Retail bosses have been warning that the industry faces a major shortfall of 100,000 lorry drivers as the impact of the Covid pandemic and post-Brexit migration rules strangle supply chains and threatens a shortage of popular gifts and staple foods.  

Former soldier Aaron Leventhal, 37, said the country is ‘desperate for deliveries’ with pay rocketing for experienced lorry drivers

He gained his HGV licence driving trucks in the British Army, then spent 10 years on his dream of becoming a jet pilot. But he lost his job when budget airline Flybe collapsed so decided to go back on the road as a freelance driver delivering essential food and fuel to supermarkets

A nationwide shortage of HGV drivers has put those in the trade in a stronger position when it comes to negotiating new pay deals

This Department for Transport graph also showed that the number of goods vehicle operator licences in issue in Britain was 69,000 in 2019/20, down from 91,000 in 2009/10

The supply of popular Christmas products is likely to be hit by domestic labour shortages and issues with global shipping 

Thousands of convenience stores including Londis and Budgens could be hit by shortages as drivers working for a key distributor threatened to go on strike.

Trade union Unite has slammed Booker – which is owned by Tesco – for refusing to grant a £5 per hour temporary pay rise to drivers working from its depot in Thamesmead, south-east London.

The site serves more than 1,500 petrol stations and convenience stores across London and the south of England including Premier and One Stop.

It comes as drivers for Yodel and DHL threatened their own strike in a move that could disrupt deliveries from Asos and Argos.

Mr Leventhal said being made redundant left him ‘high and dry’ as a pilot. But he had kept on working as a driver during his pilot training so his HGV licences were all up to date.

He reckons pay rates for agency drivers in his licence category have shot up from £9 per hour a year ago to up to £30 an hour, plus an extra £5 an hour to pay for a driver’s overnight hotel room.

Mr Leventhal, who lives with his long-term partner Abigail Hall and their eight-year-old daughter Belle, trained to drive in the army with the Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers.

He worked with Flybe for 18 months before it went bust last year.

He said: ‘I was absolutely devastated at first. This had been a dream of mine for years and it had taken a lot of hard work and dedication to train.

‘I’m now helping keep food supplies up in supermarkets. I feel a real sense of pride that I’m doing my share in helping the nation.’

The Road Haulage Association estimates there is a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers in the UK, out of a pre-pandemic total of about 600,000.

Bernard Davies, who has run haulage firm ATB Davies in Carmarthen since 1973, employs 16 drivers, but could do with more.

‘There is a shortage and it is very serious because there’s nobody coming through the system,’ Mr Davies, 76, said.

‘We’ve had to increase pay by 10 per to 12 per cent – we’ve been to the customers and they have agreed to give us a rate increase to cover that.

‘People are desperate – they are all desperate to get drivers to get their goods delivered.’

He said a HGV driver now is earning £40,000 a year, up from about £28,000 to £30,000 five years ago. 

Bare shelves at a Co-Op supermarket in London yesterday as the supply issues continue


Pictures posted by Twitter users this week show how Greggs has been suffering from supply chain issues

This graph from the Department for Transport shows how the number of goods moved and lifted and distance travelled by vehicles has varied, compared to a baseline of 2004 Q4

Why is there a supply-chain crisis? 

A lack of lorry drivers and food processors is being partly blamed on the new Brexit visa regime introduced on January 1, which penalises lower-skilled migrants in favour of those with qualifications. 

But global factors are relevant too, bosses say, including Chinese port closures and a lack of shipping containers. US Vice President Kamala Harris urged Americans to buy Christmas toys early due to a shortage there. 

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, told MailOnline Britain has so far been unable to shake its dependency on EU workers who have been leaving due to the pandemic.

The supply of new workers is also being held back by stricter visa rules introduced on January 1.

The most common complaint among UK retailers and food producers is the shortage of lorry drivers, which the Road Haulage Association currently puts at 100,000.

Thousands of prospective drivers are waiting for their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by lockdown, while many existing ones have left the UK after Brexit or to be back with their families during Covid.

Importers are also suffering a financial hit, with dramatically rising transport costs caused by a global lack of shipping containers and a slowdown in freight movements resulting from port closures.

Chinese authorities recently shut Ningbo-Zhoushan port, which is one of the world’s largest container terminals, due to a Covid outbreak. 

‘But somebody’s got pay for it and it’s going to be the public,’ he said.

‘If you’re going to the shop it’s going to cost you a bit more. I don’t think it’s going to come out of the profits of the supermarket people.’

It comes as drivers for Yodel and DHL threatened their own strike in a move that could disrupt deliveries from Asos and Argos.

A consultative poll of 200 drivers working for DHL saw a 98 per cent vote for industrial action over the offer of a one per cent pay rise.

It will now go to a full ballot of members by the Unite union who recently won a higher pay rise for beer delivery drivers after a threatened strike which was subsequently called off this week.

A nationwide shortage of HGV drivers has put those in the trade in a stronger position when it comes to negotiating new pay deals.

The issue is having a serious impact for businesses including those in food and hospitality, with more than a quarter hit by low stock levels in recent weeks.

The Office for National Statistics’s recent business survey found 27 per cent of food services and accommodation firms have reported lower than normal stock levels – the worst-hit of all the sectors.

Low stock levels were also reported by 23 per cent of manufacturers and 25 per cent of firms in the wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles industry between July 26 and August 8.

The supply chain crisis is increasingly leaving supermarket shelves bare and leading to a shortage of materials and higher prices across a raft of sectors, from housebuilding to car production.

Greggs said this week it has been unable to restock products in some stores, joining McDonald’s, Nando’s, KFC, Beefeater and Subway in warning customers about shortages of key ingredients and products.

The escalating delivery driver shortage is now even threatening Christmas, with bosses at Iceland and the Co-op revealing this week that cancelled deliveries are causing the worst gaps on shelves they have ever seen.

Industry experts say the shortage is largely the result of a double-whammy of Brexit, which led to thousands of EU drivers going home, and coronavirus.

Lockdown hit the training of new drivers and some 40,000 HGV driver tests were cancelled.

Significantly, the average age of a British lorry driver is put at 56-57 and not enough young people have joined the industry against a background of long hours, unattractive conditions and poor pay.

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