Pandemic Pause reduces Commercial Pilot Flight Time
Pandemic Pause creates time for GA Pilot Training
Flight Schools should benefit
With commercial schedules a fraction of their 2019 flights, Airline Transport Pilots have not been able to maintain their level of flying and the reduced hours tend to diminish their stick and rudder skills.
The bow wave of simulator training time will tax the existing availability of these sophisticated learning tools. Add to that added demand, the highly publicized requirement for requalification of B-737 Max 8 pilots will increase the hours needed.
COVID-19 created free time and a need to experience freedom. As explained below, these two factors have resulted in surge of people working to earn their Private Pilot License. The idle hours provided an opportunity to work on the courses towards this ability to operate a plane. The comments in the article point to the relaxation and joy of flying.
The Pandemic has created a need for commercial airline pilot training and a demand for earning a PPL.
By Harry Suhartono and Anurag Kotoky | December 1, 2020
On Sept. 15, an Indonesian flight carrying 307 passengers and 11 crew to the northern city of Medan momentarily veered off the runway after landing, sparking an investigation by the country’s transport safety regulator. It found the pilot had flown less than three hours in the previous 90 days. The first officer hadn’t flown at all since Feb. 1.
The incident underlines an emerging risk from the coronavirus pandemic: pilots aren’t getting enough opportunity to fly because airlines have grounded planes and scaled back operations due to a slump in demand for air travel.
In its preliminary report, Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee said the pandemic has made it harder to maintain pilot proficiency and flying experience. The Lion Air aircraft involved was an Airbus SE A330, one of 10 in the carrier’s fleet. Because Lion Air doesn’t have a simulator for the A330, its pilots are trained at third-party facilities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Covid-19 travel restrictions have made those harder to access…
Analytics company Cirium says almost a third of the world’s passenger jets remain in storage — parked in the center of Australia and the U.S.’s Mojave Desert…Thousands of pilots have been laid off or furloughed, and those still in work are flying a lot less because there’s so little demand.
The return to the skies of Boeing Co.’s Max 737 could add another layer of complexity. The jet was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after two fatal crashes but was last month cleared by the U.S. FAA with an extensive package of fixes. [NOTE: pilots qualifying for the MAX 8 will require additional tutelage on the MCAS.]
In its preliminary report on the Lion Air incident, the Indonesian safety authority laid out the pilots’ experience, the approach of the plane, weather conditions and landing. The pilot in command was a 48-year-old Airbus A330 flight instructor with about 17,000 hours flying experience; the 46-year-old first officer, who’d been working as a captain for Thai Lion Air before relocating to Indonesia in March, had a similar amount of flying hours.
The report noted that Indonesia’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation issued a circular in May on testing pilot proficiency during the pandemic, with certain exemptions and extensions allowed due to limitations on flying time. However, the circular didn’t provide detailed guidelines to airlines on how they should operate under these exemptions.
According to Ranganathan, it will take about a month of regular flying for pilots to get their confidence and skill levels back, along with lots of training.
“When you are not focused, decisions can get delayed,” he said. “Just a few seconds can make a difference between a safe flight or an accident.”
–With assistance from Kyunghee Park and Joyce Koh.
Star Tribune (TNS)
Nov 30th, 2020
Sara Weidler, right, an instructor for In Flight Pilot Training, worked with student pilot Shea Kieren at Flying Cloud Airport. Regional airfields are seeing a big jump in interest as people have more time to focus on their goals
Kayla Wildes was training to be a flight attendant in March when the pandemic grounded her career plans. With more free time on her hands, she saw a good time to learn to fly.
Commercial flights may be down due to COVID-19. But two small airports in the metro are unexpectedly bustling thanks in part to a soaring interest in flying lessons.
“I don’t know if I would have had that opportunity if I was working full time,” said Wildes, 27, of Prior Lake, who’s now aiming to be a commercial pilot.
Flying Cloud in Eden Prairie and Anoka County- Blaine, two reliever airports in the Metropolitan Airports Commission network, are seeing a spike in activity as pilots and aspiring pilots brush up on skills, earn a new flying credential or learn to fly a plane for the first time.
“It’s been their lifelong dream to learn how to fly and maybe be able to own or rent an airplane down the road,” Joe Harris, the commission’s director of reliever airports, said in describing many of the new customers.
Several months during the pandemic have seen increases in total operations, which include both takeoffs and landings, compared with last year at the same time. Flying Cloud, in the southwest metro, has seen jumps every month between March and October, with a high point in July of nearly 14,000 operations compared to 12,000 in July 2019.
Anoka County- Blaine saw upticks in July and October. But the most dramatic increase was in September, when operations soared to 7,000 compared with 5,600 in September 2019.
Flying Cloud secured a surprising distinction last spring. On May 12, it was the seventh busiest airport in the country, beating out major hubs like Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“The airports are booming with flight students,” said Nancy Grazzini-Olson, president of both Thunderbird Aviation, which has flight schools at Crystal and Flying Cloud airports, and Academy College in Bloomington, which prepares people for aviation careers. “People are learning to fly, both … for a career and just recreationally.”
Trever Rossini, owner of InFlight Pilot Training out of Flying Cloud, said that even as other businesses struggled during the pandemic, the students kept coming.
“It was really strange. Our business didn’t slow down at all,” he said.
Grazzini-Olson said Thunderbird has seen a 10% increase in students, while Rossini said InFlight has seen a 30% leap since March.
The reason for the added interest seems to be more downtime due to COVID-19.
Some people are working from home and others have reduced hours, and few places are open for entertainment, instructors said.
For others, learning to fly brings a sense of freedom during a stressful time.
“This is almost like an escape for people so they have a little bit of normalcy,” Rossini said. “It’s really nice to be able to provide it.”
Harris noted that flight lessons are just one part of the increased action. More licensed pilots are flying recreationally, too, he said.
Overall, the activity level at the six Metropolitan Airports Commission relievers is similar to last year, Harris said.
But those steady numbers are remarkable, he said, compared with commercial airline hubs like MSP, most of which have seen dramatic decreases in passengers and total operations since COVID-19 arrived.
In September, the latest month for which data are available, the number of passengers at MSP sank to 11.6 million in 2020 compared with just shy of 30 million 2019, a 61% decrease.
During the same period, operations decreased 43%.
During the pandemic, flight schools have been deemed essential and can remain open, Rossini said, since pilots need to keep current on their licensure.
When the shutdown hit last spring, the airport stayed busy because people wanted to finish their lessons or complete whatever certificate they were working on.
Other people began contemplating lessons or pilot licensure as a substitute for flying commercially, or to transport family members who no longer felt safe on airlines, Rossini said.
When nearby colleges with aviation programs — including the University of North Dakota and Minnesota State University, Mankato — shut down, InFlight saw an influx of students, he said.
The average age of his students is the late 20s, Rossini said. But it ranges from high school to 60 years old, he said. “It’s not just one demographic,” he added.
Both Rossini and Grazzini-Olson said they’ve had to hire new flight instructors since the pandemic began, and Rossini has brought on four new planes.
The action at the airports has brought other economic benefits, Harris said. With more people and planes comes the need to buy airplane fuel at the airports, visit maintenance shops for repairs and buy items like headsets and radios.
Hangar construction at reliever airports has also surged.
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781
(c)2020 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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