Like everyone, we were instantly affected by Covid-19. As soon as the lockdown was announced, all GA flying was prohibited, so our operations almost completely ceased overnight. We could still deliver ground school online but it’s not really possible to teach someone to fly from home!
Engine health flights were the first to be allowed, only solo, under strict limitations regarding distance, duration and frequency. Next we were allowed to fly with members of our household, but still no training flights were allowed.
This was an incredibly frustrating time for us, as almost immediately after the start of lockdown we had started looking at ways we could get back to training in a way that would protect ourselves and our students. Many options were considered, from the ridiculous (one suggestion was a full Hazmat suit – thankfully that was quickly ruled out) to the impossible (moving our PPL training to an aircraft with 2 metre spacing. Just to confirm, there isn’t one. Not even a 737. Yes, we checked…) We looked at masks, gloves, screens, cleaning protocols, goggles, you name it we researched it.
First we undertook a thorough risk assessment to identify the potential areas of concern and then tried to come up with a solution that was safe but workable for each item. We needed to find ways to protect the students and instructors whilst maintaining flight safety, cockpit visibility, communication capability but without putting the student under any more pressure than normal. We had to consider the office, simulators and aircraft, and the constraints regarding chemical use on aircraft electronics and avionics. Meanwhile the sun blazed in the sky and some of the best flying weather for more than 8 months was spent in front of a screen.
Finally we had a workable solution. We had sourced a water based German disinfectant that leaves a nano layer of protection when applied to a surface, killing viruses and bacteria on contact, which lasts for up to 10 days. Having checked it was safe to use in the aircraft and simulators (Emirates use it in their aircraft, so we were confident it would be) we were happy that the offices, classrooms, equipment and aircraft were clean and safe. Temperature checks before entry, confirmation of virus free status, hand sanitiser on entry, strict social distancing and adjustments to the flying schedule to minimise people in one place at the same time were implemented. Forms were printed, signs were put up, everything was cleaned and fogged with disinfectant, so then we only had the instructors to worry about.
Unfortunately most light aircraft are not exactly spacious, so maintaining any form of distance when flying is very difficult. We considered all the options and finally decided that the instructor would have to be the one to suffer, not the student. Whilst we would expect the student to wear a mask, the instructor would be also required to wear a face visor. Fortunately the disinfectant we use means gloves aren’t necessary, but with mask, visor, headset and (hopefully) sunglasses it does look a bit like a sci-fi film. We considered carefully the stress that a student is under when learning to fly normally and didn’t want to add to it unless it was absolutely necessary and we really believe that whilst not ideal, the measures we’ve taken will keep our students and staff as safe as possible but also keep their learning environment as pleasant as possible (apart from sitting next to Darth Vader).
We are keeping an open mind and if something new or better comes along we’re ready to consider it. Training was allowed to start again on the 4th of July and so far so good!
We hope you have all remained safe and well.