ASRS’s Callback identifies some Coronavirus related risks

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FAA issues warning to airlines after a spike of in-flight incidents due to rusty pilots flying emptier planes than usual due to coronavirus

NASA’s ASRS collects voluntary reports of problems

Periodic CALLBACKS analyze episodic trends

Recent edition and Article explain lessons learned

Current aviation safety benefits from collection of data concerning unintentional errors or problems. SMS, SAIS, FOQA, ASRS and other systems receive, and process information voluntarily submitted by the safety professional participants. The mega data bases provide a statistically reliable samples from which trends can be extrapolated. Less quantitative, but no less important is the AVIATION SAFETY REPORTING SYSTEM. NASA’s  June 2020 CALLBACK Edition , using primarily episodic input, drew attention to a series of COVID-19 events and highlighted the lessons from each. As expected, the NASA experts identified excellent practices to minimize or avoid the risks identified in these reports.

The original ASRS content is found at this link, but Business Insider  has written an excellent article on each of the ARSA points:


  • Reports of in-flight incidents due to the coronavirus have filled the Aviation Safety Reporting System’s database since March. 
  • At least eight reports detail how some pilots have struggled to adjust to a new flying reality that includes empty flights and lighter aircraft. 
  • The most common problems stem from aircraft ascending and descending too quickly, as well as pilots losing their skills after being grounded for so long.

Thomas Pallini


Pilots taking to the skies during the pandemic are adapting to a new reality that includes flying empty planes and going long stretches without being at the controls. The result has been numerous safety issues in the nation’s skies with the Federal Aviation Administration stepping in to warn carriers about the new dangers, according to Bloomberg.

Over 50 warnings were sent to air carriers in May alone, Bloomberg reported, as data from prior months was analyzed.

Since March, at least eight safety reports were filed to the Aviation Safety Reporting System by pilots stemming from in-flight incidents. The NASA-run program collects voluntary safety reports from aviation workers in different roles.

Coronavirus led to one of the largest reductions in US air travel since 2001 with daily passengers dropping below 90,000 at its lowest, according to the TSA. Reports of single-passenger and even ghost flights came as the government sought to maintain air connectivity at its pre-pandemic levels.

Excess aircraft were sent to boneyards around the country and pilots were furloughed or found themselves sitting on reserve for extended periods of time. Incidents since March revealed a series of safety issues resulting from pilots flying lighter than normal aircraft weights and losing their skills from excessive downtime.

Take a look at some of the pandemic-related incidents reported to NASA by pilots since the start of the pandemic.











COVID-19 has been a contributing factor in at least eight in-flight incidents reported by pilots to the Aviation Safety Reporting System since March.



A flight crew flying during the coronavirus pandemic. Xinhua/Cheng Min/Getty Source: Aviation Safety Reporting

The incidents weren’t a result of pilots or passengers having the virus themselves but the economic and mental impacts of the virus.

masked pilots

Pilots flying a coronavirus evacuation flight. PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

A common problem was pilots experiencing a decrease in their flying skills after being inactive for so long.


A flight crew flying during the coronavirus pandemic. Emanuele Perrone/Getty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System


A flight crew flying a passenger aircraft both admitted “rustiness” played a role in their altitude being too high while on an approach to an airport with which they had little experience.

SIC communicating

A flight crew flying a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series aircraft. Sorbis /

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

The first officer in that event hadn’t flown the jet he’d be assigned to since late 2019 and had less than 100 hours on it but was still assigned to the flight without any refresher training beforehand.

forward looking

A flight crew training in a simulator. Michael Dunning/Getty Images

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

On another flight, a first officer reported that safety issues are being viewed differently in light of the pandemic.

B737 parked

A Boeing 737 aircraft. Dushlik/Shutterstock

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

A flight crew noticed one cockpit light wasn’t working and instead of reporting it, they determined to carry out the flight as normal.

A340 cockpit at night

An Airbus A340 cockpit. Thomas Koehler/Photothek/Getty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

In the report, the crewmember wrote: “The actions by the flight crew are a direct result of unprecedented times amidst the COVID-19 pandemic forcing crews to analyze safety in a new way and juggling decisions in an attempt to find a positive outcome.”


The cockpit of an Airbus A220, then a Bombardier CSeries. CLEMENT SABOURIN/AFP/Getty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

Another first officer who was fresh from classroom training at their air carrier was concerned about the gap between his training and actual flying time, known as an Initial Operating Experience.


A flight crew in a simulator aircraft. BSIP/Universal Images Group/Getty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

The flying schedule, according to the first officer, was too limited to accommodate training for new pilots which would lead to losing skills and knowledge when it actually came time to fly.

student pilot

A student pilot in flight training. Joshua Replogle/AP

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

Some pilots are also struggling to adjust to the lower weights of their aircraft due to a lack of passengers.


A Boeing 787 Dreamliner performing during the Paris Air Show. ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

One common problem is that lighter aircraft can climb and descend faster than fully loaded aircraft.

B787 at PAS

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner performing during the Paris Air Show. Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

This can lead to pilots overshooting assigned altitudes and tail strikes on takeoff, as they are used to the aircraft being a certain weight when manually flying.

B737 at DCA

A Boeing 737 aircraft departing from Washington, DC. Saul Loeb/AFP

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

One report cited a pilot exceeding an assigned altitude during a go-around, which is a sensitive procedure as it often occurs in the final stages of landing when the aircraft is close to other departing or arriving aircraft.

on approach

An aircraft on approach to land. Robert Michael/picture alliance/Getty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

Some planes are also climbing too fast for the aircraft systems to keep up with one incident detailing that a pressurization warning appeared during a rapid ascent on a flight with low passenger and cargo weights.


An Embraer E190-E2 aircraft departing from an air show. Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

Air traffic controllers also need to take this into account when giving climb and descent instructions, as they misjudge the separation between two aircraft vertically.


A routine flight saw two aircraft come into close proximity, despite being controlled by air traffic control, with the onboard Traffic Collision and Avoidance System alerting one aircraft to climb.

Montreal Tower

An Air Canada jet flies past the control tower at Montreal’s Dorval International Airport. Shaun Best/Reuters

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

The first officer had to manually take control and climb the aircraft. There were two instances of near-collisions in the past three months from the database.

Pilots in the cockpit of a BAE 146. via Getty Images

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

When taking off with around five passengers onboard, the low weight of one aircraft led pilots to climb too quickly and incorrectly fly a departure procedure.

empty cabin

A nearly empty cabin of a SkyWest Airlines flight. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

Mental distress caused by concerns of the coronavirus is also impacting some pilots.

Captain in mask

“Crew debriefed extraordinary threats to mental distraction due to Coronavirus events,” one narrative in the report stated. “Captain had flown 5 straight days and was further distracted by family situation involving extraordinary airline operations.”

AF pilot and simulator

An Air France pilot trains in a flight simulator at a training center near Paris amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Reuters

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

The crew had been flying an encountered a go-around on their first approach to an airport at nighttime and a terrain proximity warning on their second approach.

Coast Guard landing

Complaints about COVID-19 related issues also came from other frontline aviation workers including air traffic controllers, ramp agents, and flight attendants.

flight attendants being checked

Flight attendants preparing for a temperature check. Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

A common gripe from flight attendants was the lack of adequate cleaning supplies stocked onboard aircraft and concerns about sharing jumpseats in the cabin.

flight attendant with PPE

A flight attendant wearing personal protective equipment. Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

Ramp workers mostly complained about having to share equipment such as headsets used to communicate with aircraft.


An aircraft marshaller wearing a face covering. Ricardo Castelan Cruz/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media/Getty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

Air traffic controllers were also submitting multiple complaints, with some stemming from social distancing issues at their facilities.

controller at ARTCC

An air traffic controller. Reuters

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

March saw numerous air traffic control facilities closed for cleanings when personnel tested positive for COVID-19.

JFK Tower

The control tower at JFK Airport in New York. Mark Lennihan/AP

Airports across the country briefly went uncontrolled or air traffic controllers had to retreat to back-up facilities.

MDW runways

A shot above Midway International Airport in Chicago. Thomas Barrat/shutterstock

Some reports complained about a lack of social distancing and said that facilities weren’t doing enough to enforce the practice.

controller at TRACON

An air traffic controller. Burben/

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

Another concern was the lack of communication between technicians due to social distancing as they were more spread apart from each other, hindering communication.


An air traffic controller. Hyoung Chang/The Denver PostGetty

Source: Aviation Safety Reporting System

So forewarned, pilots, flight attendants, ground crew and others should apply these lessons in the COVID-19 world…

covid and global aviation





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