Note: This article is current as of April 14, 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
Importantly, the FAA has confirmed to aviation industry professional organizations that it is not considering closing domestic airspace. While the Coronavirus required temporary shut downs of ATC facilities, they were reopened after sanitation and disinfection efforts were completed, and the FAA reported ATC has been “strategic in their mitigations.”
The FAA is also moving forward with issuing a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) to help alleviate the issues general aviation faces with compliance with normal FAA certification requirements. AOPA has requested exemptions and deviations from regulations and policies as to the following items, which are now under consideration by the FAA:
- Extension of 14 CFR Part 61 Pilot currency requirements, e.g. flight review, IPC, PIC/SIC proficiency checks;
- Guidance that 709 reexaminations or paperwork inspections in person (such as logbook inspections under 61.51, or maintenance record inspections under 91.417) be held off or at least be conducted electronically during the current social distancing safety protocols and directives regarding non-essential activities;
- Extensions for certified flight instruction certificate renewal, expiration, and endorsement periods;
- Extensions of knowledge exam expiration period;
- Extensions for applicants on the ability to complete practical examinations;
- Extension for filing documents under 14 CFR Part 13 (Subparts C, D, and G); and
- Extensions for aircraft maintenance and continuing airworthiness requirements with necessary mitigation procedures.
The FAA remains focused on assisting the air carriers with handling the impacts of COVID-19. On April 9, 2020, the FAA announced it would extend the temporary waiver of minimum slot-use requirements through October 24, 2020, to help airlines that cancel flights due to the Coronavirus. The temporary waiver that was provided earlier was set to end May 31, 2020, but will now be extended to October 24, 2020.
Additionally, the FAA is allowing flight attendants to relocate from the seats they normally occupy, so they can observe social distancing measures, and it excuses them from having to demonstrate the use of certain emergency equipment. Air carriers must submit a Letter of Intent to the FAA to be granted authorization.
Importantly, the FAA has made clear that it cannot waive insurance requirements for pilots. So, while it may provide some flexibility for non-enforcement of medical certificate requirements, and other such FAR compliance under its authority, it cannot dictate what insurance carriers will and will not accept for coverage. AOPA reported, and we agree from a legal perspective, “It is possible that flying without a current or valid medical certificate may jeopardize the validity of your aircraft insurance policy.” The insurance policy is a contract between the Insured and the Insurer and there may be no provision to allow the Insurer to deviate from pre-conditioned requirements for coverage. Pilots who cannot meet their medical certificate requirements during the COVID-19 crisis need to discuss with their insurance brokers/carriers what exemptions or relief may be offered during this time.
A few states have required insurers to provide some relief to pilots in the form of a “grace period” for premium payments or a moratorium on property and casualty policy cancelations (for non-payment. However, not all states have issued such orders to insurers. Some carriers, like Starr Aviation, have actually voluntarily provided temporary relief to customers who are unable to satisfy the training or medical certification requirements during COVID-19, but there are limitations to the accommodations. It is important that each pilot have a discussion with their specific carrier as to any questions or issues regarding coverage during the pandemic.
Even though many student pilots and private pilots are not flying currently, they should not cut their insurance or allow coverage to lapse or it could be most costly in the long-run. AOPA reported and warned that “canceling an aviation insurance policy, even for a short period of time, can put the policyholder back at square one when the time comes to request coverage again, and the same policy (including the specific terms and conditions) may not be available, particularly in what was already a very tight insurance market even before the pandemic.”
The FAA will award approximately $10 Billion in funds to commercial and general aviation airports from the CARES Act to provide economic relief. General aviation airports will receive funds based on their airport categories, such as National, Regional, Local, Basic and Unclassified. Airport sponsors should contact their local Office of Airports field office for additional guidance. FAQs on the CARES Act from the FAA are here: https://www.faa.gov/airports/cares_act/media/cares-act-airport-grants-faqs.pdf
The NBAA has prepared an article on the Key Provisions for General Aviation Business in the CARES Act, available here: https://nbaa.org/aircraft-operations/safety/coronavirus/key-provisions-for-general-aviation-businesses-in-the-cares-act/ There are detailed explanations of the business tax provisions, economic stabilization fund, small business loan programs, air transportation excise tax suspension, and assistance to airports.
General Aviation Pilots and Airports
Many pilots have volunteered with Angel Flights to provide free transportation to people who need to travel for medical appointments. NBAA reported on the Angel Flight West program that completed a number of COVID-19 response missions delivering critical medical supplies and personal protective equipment. These efforts continue to show the value of General Aviation pilots and airports, especially to remote parts of the country.
Michigan pilots also flew face shields to COVID-19 medical frontliners as reported by the NBAA. An auto parts stamping company, Mursix Corp., made a prototype of a face shield for hospital use in Detroit, and a team of volunteer general aviation pilots assembled to deliver a couple hundred of them initially. The volunteer pilots have delivered over 75,000 units in just two weeks to various medical providers. Their flights cut the time for travel (as compared to trucking) down from a day’s drive to around two hours—critical time needed during the pandemic.
Similarly, pilots who volunteer with Aerobridge are prepared
to transport masks, sanitizer, and other critical items should commercial
cargo/air traffic come to a standstill.
 April 1, 2020 AOPA correspondence to the FAA