As of early May, the United States is about two months into a national response to the coronavirus outbreak. While situations vary state by state, many flight schools opted to shut down during the outbreak, while still others remained open.
Now states are starting to loosen their rules on essential travel and business. (In case you are still wondering where your business falls along this spectrum, AOPA has published a state-by-state guide that is updated regularly.) And, whether they have been open or closed, flight schools are realizing that standard operating procedures from pre-COVID-19 days won’t work.
To this end, AOPA published a COVID-19 flight operations guide focusing on resuming and sustaining operations. You can find it on AOPA Online. The guide discusses not only sanitary practices but also ways to open sequentially and methods to monitor risk as flight schools reopen.
A recent discussion in a Facebook group provided a look into what flight schools are doing, and what they are not doing. Most changes, not surprisingly, pertain to keeping airplanes clean and sanitized. Others involve social distancing. And nobody seems to have figured out how to maintain six feet of separation within a general aviation cockpit, a helicopter, or a simulator.
On sanitizing aircraft and maintaining social distance:
“Spraying the planes with the COVID-killing stuff; wiping down the FBO/interior of the school on every even hour; providing disinfectant wipes as you go out to the airplanes; limiting the number of people inside.”
“FBO stays closed, all post flight and pre flight discussion is done over the phone, masks have to be worn, wipe down airplane before and after using it, students must provide their own headsets. No limit on number of flights per day (as of now), but very strict about the masks and cleaning airplanes.”
“We sanitize all the control surfaces before and after each flight. A lot of people wear masks. We don’t require it, but another flight school on the field does. We have hand sanitizer out for everyone to use, and the office is technically closed, so that helps keep the traffic down since people aren’t just inside hanging out. It’s working pretty well for us!”
“I have been going in and wiping down door handles inside and outside, computer keyboards and mouse and other heavy use surfaces. People are self-checking in and checking out and they are wiping down flight controls before and after the flights. Some people wear masks and some don’t. It is summer now and it gets really hot, so masks may be an issue.”
“The two I’m involved with in northeast Kansas: Both are seriously wiping down airplanes with disinfectant between flights--one uses Clorox Wipes, not sure about the other; one has stopped dual flight instruction, the other has not; both allow rentals. Aviation is deemed essential in Kansas, but shops can interpret how they like.”
“My school has someone disinfect airplanes. They give out two wipes per flight. All orals and ground schools are online.”
FBO stays closed; all post-flight and preflight discussion is done over the phone; masks have to be worn; wipe down airplane before and after using it; students must provide their own headsets. No limit on number of flights per day (as of now), but very strict about the masks and cleaning airplanes.”
Even after the United States opens back up fully, it’s likely flight schools will need to continue some of these practices to make customers feel secure that health considerations are observed. So don’t toss out the wipes and Clorox just yet.