March 23, 2020

With many business aviation operators contending with the continuing spread of the COVID-19 virus, a new NBAA News Hour webinar held March 20 provided the very latest information available from the medical community and industry experts on the ever-evolving global situation.

“We’ve been faced with similar challenges through the years, [although] not on this scale,” said Robert Moya, senior operations manager for Universal Weather and Aviation. “That said, there are still plenty of best practices that we can enact as a community to keep the spread down.”

A recent FAA safety alert for operators (SAFO 20003) outlines interim guidelines to protect flight crews from exposure and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 onboard aircraft or through air travel. That includes minimizing contact with ground personnel, providing N95 masks for those in the cabin – not to protect the wearer, but to guard against transmission from coughing or sneezing to those around them – and questioning passengers about their previous travel destinations.

“One of the best practices we encourage is to keep a travel diary going, especially for those with last-minute charter operations,” Moya added. “A very safe best practice for your crew, as well as [for] where you’re going for your mission, is to know where those passengers have been before you commit to anything.”

Noting the “ventilation system [in] business aircraft is actually much better than some meeting rooms,” Dr. Paulo Alves with international medical services provider MedAire emphasized crewmembers’ primary focus should be on reducing their risk of exposure to COVID-19 during preflight activities and when away from the aircraft. “Everyone [you encounter] should be seen as suspected case,” he continued. “You need to take precautions as if anyone was infected.”

One audience question concerned how to properly disinfect an aircraft cabin to remove potential traces of COVID-19. Christine Vamvakas, Universal Weather and Aviation senior account manager for charter management, noted differences between the present situation versus past global outbreaks such as the Zika virus.

“In the past, authorities actually required aircraft to come to a specific location and be sprayed down,” she said. “In this case, authorities are just either requesting that persons bring their protective gear with them, and I would recommend [following] the OEM guidelines when it comes to sanitizing the aircraft.”

Other questions involved difficulty with renewing flight certifications and scheduling 61.58 proficiency check rides, when to replace HEPA filters onboard aircraft and how business aircraft may still operate humanitarian or medical flights to areas otherwise closed off to international travel. Several participants also expressed concerns about rumored airspace closures in the United States.

“Conversations that NBAA held with senior leadership at the FAA earlier this week confirmed that there are no plans either underway, under development or in the in the planning stages to do any sort of airspace closure,” emphasized NBAA Vice President, Regulatory and International Affairs Doug Carr. “We hope we’re going to get through this quickly and get back to normal as soon as possible.”

In the coming weeks, the association will continue to offer NBAA News Hour webinars to provide the latest news and guidance about the effect of the COVID-19 virus on business aircraft operations. Review these and other NBAA resources on COVID-19.