April 2, 2020

How is your aviation operation responding to the COVID-19 crisis? Are you ready to fulfill flight requests during the pandemic and after the outbreak is over? NBAA’s latest News Hour webinar, “Maintaining Flight Department Readiness,” held on March 31, addressed these questions and more.

Moderator Jo Damato, NBAA’s vice president of educational strategy and workforce development, led four presenters through a number of recommendations and best practices.

First, James Stone, CAM, director of aviation services at Aflac, Inc., and Brad Self, CAM, chief pilot of VF Corp., provided some best practices for keeping crewmembers and other team members safe, including:

  • Pairing the same crewmembers together for the duration of the crisis to limit potential coronavirus exposure
  • Rotating staff to limit the number of people at the hangar
  • Keeping each pilot in a single seat for the entire trip – not switching seats
  • Wiping down equipment, including oxygen masks, regularly

If organizations do receive a flight request, how can they mitigate risks of COVID-19 exposure for passengers and crewmembers?

Mark Baier, CEO of AviationManuals, and Kevin Honan, the company’s senior advisor of operations manuals and emergency response plans, recommend operators conduct a thorough risk assessment of the proposed flight before accepting it. They noted that some operators have added health risks to their flight risk assessment tools to ensure careful consideration of medical factors prior to each flight.

“People’s assessment of risk is different,” said Baier, who recommends that operators conduct an anonymous survey of aviation operation employees and users to determine their acceptable level of risk, then conduct operations at a level that employees and passengers consider safe.

Operators should consider at-destination policies as well. For example, require pilots to stay in their hotel and avoid crowds. Be prepared to handle a sick pilot or passenger and plan for possible medical diversions.

Keeping aircraft in good condition and pilots qualified to fly is also crucial, especially since no one knows when COVID-19 containment and recovery will occur. Some operators are “exercising” aircraft once a week – either through run-ups or flights – and all operators should be monitoring and addressing crewmember currency.

Self and Stone also said their organizations are using this period to evaluate collateral duties, review manuals for consistency and prepare for aviation operation audits.

Additional best practices include:

  • Sanitizing and cleaning aircraft
  • Self-monitoring crewmembers for coronavirus symptoms
  • Asking passengers about previous travel and any possible virus symptoms or exposure

One attendee asked how the industry will re-start operations and which best practices should continue. Presenters suggested the industry will need to work together to determine the “new normal.”

“At times like this, we all often work in a higher level in some ways and have heightened attention to detail,” concluded Baier. “The key is to keep that going forward. These best practices are important all the time, not just during COVID-19 crisis.”

The webinar is just one in a series of educational opportunities NBAA has planned for the coming weeks. The next NBAA News Hour webinar, which will help companies understand the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, is scheduled for Friday, April 3, at 11 a.m. EDT. To learn more, visit the NBAA News Hour webpage.