Flight training is part of the “essential transportation infrastructure” during the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, according to officials with the Flight School Association of North America.
“As our country works through this challenge, an important factor is continuing the viability of the current and future air transportation system to provide transit of persons and goods as necessary during the emergency and during the recovery,” officials said in a prepared release. “Without continued training and currency of our pilot community, this ability would be hindered. As such, FSANA has sought input and interpretation from legal counsel.”
On March 24, 2020, attorney Gregory Winton, who previously was a senior attorney for the FAA and U.S. Department of Justice, and now operates The Aviation Law Firm in Annapolis, Maryland, provided a memorandum of understanding.
“This memorandum affirms the statement that…flight training would be included as a critical infrastructure activity. Those engaged in the provision of and receipt of flight training who work to provide enhanced compliance with CDC recommendations for limiting potential COVID-19 exposure and spread would be considered exempt from travel limitations imposed by local authorities.”
The memorandum was sent to the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)’s Director, Christopher C. Krebs.
The letter begins by noting that:
“CISA listed Other Community-Based Government Operations And Essential Functions as follows: Workers who support necessary credentialing, vetting and licensing operations for transportation workers.”
“The aviation sub-sector stakeholders involved with operation of recreational aircraft and flight schools, who employ Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers from the Transportation Sector, support necessary credentialing, vetting and licensing operations for transportation workers seeking pilot certification by the Federal Aviation Administration,” it continues. “Since CISA intended to be overly inclusive to reflect the diversity of industries, the aviation mode stakeholders understand that essential employees involved with the operation of recreational aircraft and flight schools continue to be identified as Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers from the Transportation Sector. Accordingly, the aviation sub-sector stakeholders who employ Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers from the Transportation Sector will continue to operate recreational aircraft and flight schools, appropriately modified to account for CDC workforce and customer protection guidance, based upon the CISA memorandum dated March 19, 2020.”
FSANA leaders say “this leads FSANA to the position that flight training operations qualify as essential transportation infrastructure during this time and that their customers seeking training continuation are doing so under exemptions from travel restrictions that have been issued in some locales as they work to become certified or maintain their qualifications as pilots for our transportation system.”
This is further supported by the CISA statement that noted that essential infrastructure staff included those “who support necessary credentialing, vetting and licensing operations for transportation workers,” FSANA officials added, noting “pilots and those who train and credential them fall into this category.”
FSANA is sending the memorandum to flight training providers to help them understand the “applicability of flight training when conducted with enhanced screening and cleaning procedures as recommended by the CDC as an essential transportation infrastructure piece of our economy that will allow training operators to continue training operations in locations where orders restricting movement of non-essential persons have been issued.”
You can view the full memorandum letter here.
FSANA encourages persons involved in flight training to keep a copy of the memorandum with them as they travel to or from their residences for flight training activities in the event that their travel purpose is questioned by a government official.
FSANA officials said they expect that any local or state officials will properly recognize the federal level of oversight and activity that is involved in flight training and “not attempt to limit these activities when they are conducted with appropriate social distancing considerations.”
FSANA officials add that they are not saying flight training operations must stay open.
“That will be a choice for each individual operator based on their business model, their ability to provide enhanced cleaning and operational safety, or even personal desire to operate during this time. But, should you decide to continue to operate, we want to provide you with as many resources as possible.”
Several FSANA member operators have developed independent, school specific, COVID-19 operations manuals. FSANA thanks AeroGuard Flight Training Center and U.S. Aviation Academy for sharing their COVID-19 manuals as examples for the industry to use as a basis for their own responses and continued operations.
If you decide to keep your flight school operational, FSANA strongly recommends following all CDC, WHO, and medical advisories regarding employee hygiene, aircraft and facility sanitation, social distancing, and any other precautionary measures that you deem necessary to keep your employees and students safe and healthy, officials added.
FAA Issues Exemptions for DPEs to Continue Testing During COVID-19
On March 25, 2020, the FAA offered a memorandum for Designated Pilot Examiners (DPE) to authorize continued testing of pilots under FAA guidelines even in the case of expiration of oversight or training requirements unless a specific DPE has been contacted by their managing specialist and asked to stop for non-currency related causes.
The implications of this memorandum are that the FAA has in no way at this time asked DPEs to stop testing applicants for pilot certifications.
“This is critical to continuing our pilot training and testing pipeline for our nation’s transportation needs,” FSANA officials said. “Specifically, the memorandum offers DPEs the ability to continue testing in the event that required re-currency training or oversight has not been able to be provided by the FAA during this national emergency.
The full text of this memorandum can be seen here.