What happens when lockdowns lift but pilots are out of practice?

What happens when lockdowns lift but pilots are out of practice
Pilots have to pass several tests to qualify. Source: Getty Images
4 Min Read

Daily US Times: The coronavirus pandemic has forced most of the world’s airplanes to be grounded for the immediate future. But when the pandemic situation will be over and everything start to become normal, pilots will need to be up to speed.

That doesn’t mean dusting off their navy-blue blazers or polishing their Ray-Bans. It means brushing up on flight-deck skills and ensuring they keep within the boundaries of aviation’s stringent safety regulations.

And that is presenting a big challenge as pilots remain off duty in housebound.

Brian Strutton of the British Airline Pilots Association, or BALPA, which represents the interests of all UK pilots said, “Pilots require frequent training and ‘recency’ to be able to fly.”

He explains “recency” means complying with regulations that stipulate a pilot must have successfully carried out three takeoffs and landings — one of which using the cockpit’s autoland facility — within the previous 90 days.

Commercial pilots also need to perform three night-time take-offs and landings within the 90 days to qualify for flying both at daytime and night-time.

This covers the three daytime take-offs and landings as well, but there are other annual checks, as well.

License Proficiency Check included in the annual check, which a pilot would have to do every year to keep their pilot’s license valid. Other than that, the airline that the pilot flies for will have to perform an Operational Proficiency Check every six months.

Adam Twidell, an experienced pilot and CEO of PrivateFly, a booking platform for on-demand jets said, “Most of these checks could be conducted in what is known as a ‘D level’ simulator.”

These are the most realistic and offer the highest definition and lifelike responses — just like real flying.

Simulators are also important to the pilots to keep their skills sharp. While much can be practiced using computer games such as Microsoft Flight Simulator, there is no substitute when it comes to certifications, trainings and ratings. Pilots need to access real, full-scale flight simulators.

But for that, simulators need to be available.

For example, in the UK, many facilities offering simulators are closed.

There are also the issues of the availability of instructors and examiners to conduct checks and a co-pilot also needs to be present.

Twidell said: “There’s going to be a significant backlog of available simulator slots. When airlines do want to get back to normal operations they won’t be able to do it instantly.”

Pushing the boundaries

To help alleviate the pressure accumulating from the potential expiration of the pilots’ medical certificates and ratings (additional elements of the pilot’s license that allows them to fly specific types of aircraft), granted worldwide by

Time extensions are being granted by regulatory authorities worldwide to help alleviate the pressure accumulating from the potential expiration of the pilots’ medical certificates and ratings.

The EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has extended the deadlines for certain requirements on condition that each airline comes up with a detailed pilot training plan that the agency will assess, saying that If it’s a credible plan, an extension could be granted.

Naomi Tsuda, the Federal Aviation Administration’s assistant chief counsel for enforcement said the FAA will not take legal action against pilots in cases of noncompliance with medical certificate duration standards if their certificate expires between March 31 and June 30, 2020.

Tsuda said in an FAA Notice of Enforcement Policy, “The FAA will reevaluate this decision as circumstances unfold, to determine whether an extension or other action is needed to address this pandemic-related challenge.”

Deferring the expiry of licenses and certificates is certainly helpful. But all of this is incredibly stressful for the airlines’ workforces.

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