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Flight Crews: Brushing Up on Piloting Skills

As flight operations ramp up after the COVID-19-induced slowdown, aviation managers and single pilots alike need to ensure there’s no lingering rustiness in their flying skills.

Jeff Wofford, NBAA Safety Committee chair, is part of a new Safety Committee working group to address exactly that issue. As chief pilot and aviation director for a NC-based company, he took a proactive approach to his own flight department’s strategy for dealing with the COVID-19-related slowdown in company travel.

“Company leadership is very supportive of safety and risk assessment,” said Wofford. “We flew maintenance and proficiency flights every week, including VOR holds, ILS missed approaches and GPS approaches to landing. And the maintenance guys did a lot of virtual training.”

“We flew maintenance and proficiency flights every week, including VOR holds, ILS missed approaches and GPS approaches to landing.”

Jeff Wofford Chief Pilot and Aviation Director for a NC-based Company

Wofford noted that flying is a perishable skill, and said it’s important to keep pilots flying whenever possible. When one of his company’s two Challengers was scheduled for maintenance, he’d have the second aircraft fly “chase” to the maintenance facility, which is located about 140 nautical miles away.

Brian Moore, senior vice president of operations at FlightSafety International, said, “Getting back to a normal flow of recurrent training is likely to require more ‘batting practice.’” His company’s Live Learning program is a version of training online with live instructors. He said, “We were going to do it anyway; COVID ramped it up.”

But Moore is quick to point out that pilots miss in-person training opportunities and are eager to resume interacting face-to-face with fellow aviators.

“It’s the informal ‘water-cooler’ talk that sometimes is the most valuable learning tool,” he said.

Moore recommended that before crews take their first real-world trip, pilots take the time to ensure their non-flight duties are covered.

“You don’t want to be halfway into a flight and think, ‘Oh no! I forgot to arrange the ground transportation,” said Moore.

He also suggests that flight department managers try to avoid taking pop-up trips, watch the back-to-backs, and pair high-level-of-recency pilots with those who have not flown for a while.

“It all comes down to preparation,” Moore said. “Folks are professionals. They know what to do. They just need to be mindful.”

Steve Thorpe, a member of the NBAA Access Committee, which also is focused on pilot proficiency, is an aviator for a large pharmaceutical company that does a lot of international flying. During the pandemic, his aviation operation developed what he dubbed “faux trips” – going through the same processes as if they were flying an actual mission.

For example, they planned a trip to Marseilles, France, including exploring avenues of permission with the French embassy in Washington, DC.

Thorpe’s company also used simulator training to meet currency requirements and flew local flights. Then they stretched their legs on longer proficiency trips, including flights to West Palm Beach, FL, to drop off company helicopter pilots for training. All this culminated with an actual international trip to Africa to deliver sorely needed Ebola vaccines on short notice.

Thorpe said, “The Africa trip exemplifies the value of preparedness – especially to the 4,200 people who got those vaccines.”

Review all of NBAA’s safety resources at nbaa.org/safety.

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