Note: This article is current as of May 18, 2020 and consists of highlights from various resources, but does not include all information available on each topic. We recommend our readers check current FAA policies and regulations online as well as industry associations.
FAA and FARS:
On April 29, 2020, the FAA announced Relief for Certain Persons and Operations during the COVID-19 situation in a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR). The official publication was issued on May 4, 2020. While the SFAR will remain in effect for close to a year, though March 31, 2021, the extensions provided vary per pilot type-certificate and operations. The FAA acknowledges that general aviation operations are critical to the Nation and worldwide economy, and assist in supporting crisis missions and response efforts during the COVID-19 situation. While they want to encourage pilots’ participating in these efforts, the FAA is committed to enforcement of its safety regulations. Importantly, individuals must continue to comply with all other FAA regulations other than the specific, limited relief outlined in the SFAR.
Click here for the: Top 3 Things Pilots Need To Know About The New SFAR
AOPA has also published several “Flow Charts” to assist you in determining which provisions apply to certain pilots in certain operations, and which apply to all pilots.
And, the NBAA hosted a webinar on the topic with FAA’s Rob Burke, group manager for training and simulation, and Barbara Adams, program analyst in the office of the executive director, as well as NBAA VP for Regulatory and International Affairs Doug Carr.
These resources are highly valuable tools to help determine the requirements under the new SFAR, and of course, if you need further information or clarification, you can contact an Aviation attorney through AOPA’s Legal Services Plan, of which Susan Hofer is a panel attorney.
The FAA also issued an Updated Interim SAFO 20009 that replaces the prior SAFO 20003. In review of the CDC recommendations, the FAA now recommends and expects all US-based air carriers and crewmembers and all other air carriers operating flights with a US nexus to implement and use their company-developed COVID-19 preparedness plans. The appendixes attached to the SAFO 20009 include guidance on health monitoring of crewmembers; health protection for passengers, crewmembers and other airline co-workers; OSHA COVID-19 preparedness plans; minimizing crewmember exposures; notifications; and response plans.
During the “stay-at-home” COVID-19 orders, many states have made it clear whether flight schools are “essential” and should remain open during the pandemic, while other states have not made it so clear. Many have interpreted these orders to allow flight schools to remain open under the “critical infrastructure” sectors, including transportation. Flight schools were not listed in the CISA’s (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) list of essential businesses. Some flight schools, in the abundance of caution, temporarily suspended operations for safety concerns as well as practical considerations given the reduced number of student-pilots scheduling flights.
Now that the “stay-at-home” orders are being lifted, flight school operations are starting to pick back up. Still flight schools need to remain vigilant in their operations for safety of their CFIs and student pilots. The cockpit of an aircraft gets shared among many people and can be hazardous enough regardless of how well it gets cleaned in between flights. Further, the act of flight instruction is a potential health hazard because of how close the student and instructor are sitting.
Some recommendations for flight schools, in line with the CDC recommendations include:
- For General Aviation: Requiring the use of face-masks at all times in the cockpit unless operations would be impeded, due to required use of oxygen at certain altitudes.
- Updating required pre-flight check-lists to include sanitation of all flight controls, handles, seats and surfaces.
- Updating required post-flight check-in procedures to require sanitation of all flight controls, handles, seats and surfaces.
- Regularly monitoring CFIs health and self-assessments of medical conditions to prevent instruction while exhibiting symptoms.
- Requiring COVID-19 addendum disclosures to each aircraft rental agreement to screen for individuals who have been exposed within 14 days to anyone who has exhibited symptoms or been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Prohibiting the shared use of headsets, seat cushions or other equipment.
- Maintaining social distancing in the FBO, office, and flight school classrooms.
While these recommendations are not mandatory, not promulgated by the FAA, and are not considered 100% effective in containing the virus, many flight schools are implementing such changes to provide a safer environment and to provide assurance to their customers and CFIs that their health is a priority.
AOPA has also provided a resource for the considerations in determining when flight operations should resume and how to sustain operations: https://www.aopa.org/-/media/Files/AOPA/Home/News/coronavirus-resources/COVID-19-Flight-Operations-v4-051220.pdf
NBAA has also recently compiled the resources on various issues facing business aviation, which can be found here: https://nbaa.org/aircraft-operations/safety/coronavirus/aircraft-operational-considerations-with-the-coronavirus/
The FAA recently issued guidance on NOTAMs when Closing Runways/Taxiways to temporarily park aircraft for airport operators, in light of the fact that the reduced aviation operations has caused numerous airports to temporarily close some runways and taxiways for parking of aircraft. https://www.faa.gov/airports/airport_safety/certalerts/media/part-139-cert-alert-20-03-NOTAM-aircraft-parking.pdf Typically, when a runway or taxiway is not operational, airport operators need to issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) alerting pilots. However, the circumstances are not part of the current “drop down” menu since the situation is highly unusual. Thus, the FAA has provided an example of what to enter in the Freeform NOTAM regarding such closures:
RWY XX/XX CLSD FOR ACFT PRKG
TWY XX CLSD FOR ACFT PRKG
TWY PARL TWY XX CLSD FOR ACFT PRKG
Of note, the FAA issued an update to the Part 139 Cert Alert on the Temporary Parking of Overflow Aircraft which includes recommendations for establishing an aircraft parking plan committee, documenting the aircraft parking plan considerations, and coordinating the plan with all airport users as appropriate.
Regarding ATC operations, as noted previously, the FAA has reduced operational hours for many FAA towers. The final list of ATC towers affected by the FAA plan is here.
Drone pilots were also included in the SFAR’s recency relief– Drone pilots (remote pilots) must pass an FAA knowledge test under Part 107 and are required to meet recency requirements every 24 months. Under the SFAR, the FAA will allow remote pilots that are not certificated under Part 61 to complete online training at www.faasafety.gov, as an alternative to establishing their recency between April 2020 and June 2020. Remote pilots are still going to be required to be tested on all items included in §107.65 and must establish knowledge recency within six calendar months. See SFAR 118.
Also recently, NBAA reported that 8 Tech Companies have been tasked with developing UAS remote ID technologies (RID) to provide identification and location information of drones. The FAA’s goal is to safety integrate drone operations into the national airspace systems in a manner in which non-UAS pilots and the FAA will be able to monitor and regulate flight operations. Airbus, Amazon, AirMap, Intel, One Sky, Skyward, T-Mobile and Wing are among the tech companies leading the RID efforts.