Rolling out of bed, heading out of the house, and participating in anything resembling a normal routine is a bit more challenging in this post-COVID-19 world. Certainly, it’s not quite as automatic as it used to be. There are issues to address. There might even be PPE (personal protection equipment) requirements in your area.
Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. That old adage seems more apt than ever right now.
In aviation it is not just the hobbyists and the weekend warriors who are affected. Even those of us who are involved in general aviation professionally have to jump through a few extra hoops to get airborne these days.
That includes flight training.
While flight training may be considered an essential activity at the upper levels of government, your local or state administrators might view things a bit differently. That can be especially vexing for a pilot who can’t get onto the field where his or her aircraft is hangared. It is also no picnic for the flight student who was making real progress, only to be removed from the cockpit and lose access to their flight school for several weeks.
Thankfully, risk mitigation is familiar territory to those who do flight training on a regular basis.
Several states are opening up again, in stages. Here in Florida where flight training is a major industry, flight schools are beginning to get back to business.
Just recently, one of the stalwarts of flight training opened its doors to clients as the lock-down eased up in the Sunshine State.
Brown’s Seaplane Base has been an institution for more than half a century. Many thousands of hopeful seaplane applicants have passed through its doors over the years. That includes international travelers, pilots from all over the U.S., local folks, and more than a few celebrities and notable figures.
I earned my seaplane rating at Brown’s a dozen years ago. While I more commonly fly aircraft with wheels under the belly, I never have any more fun or adventure than I do when I fly with floats down below.
That being the case, you can bet I called up and got my name on the schedule as soon as the news of Brown’s reopening went public. I got lucky, finding an open slot just a few days away. Yeah, baby. Let’s do this.
Everything about the experience was the same as every other visit I’ve ever made to this iconic seaplane training facility. Well, almost everything was the same.
On one visit I landed and ramped the J-3 only to find Richard Bach standing on the float of his Husky, beached on the shore of Lake Jessie. I’d read pretty much everything Richard had published at that point, so I gifted him with a copy of my first novel, that I just happened to have in the car. He accepted graciously.
It’s a great memory for me. As are so many of my memories of my time on floats.
What you might find different when you visit your local flight school in the coming weeks, is what I found at Brown’s. A large pump dispenser of hand sanitizer stood on the counter in the office. That was new. Pat, the office manager, made herself busy wiping down that counter with bleach infused towelettes. She did the same in the classroom, killing any residual bacteria, fungi, or viruses that might be lurking on the surface of the chairs or tables.
Out at the aircraft, a lineman named Tim went beyond fueling it up and pumping out the floats. He took extra care to swab down the throttle, the control stick, the seatbacks, and the overhead tubing pilots use to pull themselves into the cockpit.
From the client’s perspective everything is pretty much the same. But the procedures the staff have to employ to make it all familiar and comfortable to do business with them has undergone a few tweaks. I appreciate that attention to detail.
Life and work are beginning to return to something akin to normal for a great many of us, thankfully. There will be bumps in the road, but change is coming. Positive change.
Perhaps aviation is a bit more inclined to adapt to changing and challenging threats than most businesses. In aviation there is always a process in place to identify and mitigate risk. Whether those risks are meteorological, or they involve the pilot’s physical condition; regardless of whether our concern involves the aircraft’s status, or a lurking viral contagion, risk assessment and risk mitigation is a key component of life in the air.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Institute recently released guidance on how to safely return to active flight status. It’s good information that is well worth a review, especially if your period of being ground-bound was an extended one.
Getting back into the air is a goal for many of us. Doing that safely takes some forethought, however, just as the folks at Brown’s Seaplane Base have demonstrated. So rather than jumping into your airplane and heading over the horizon, or before you rent a flying machine from the local flight school or FBO, consider taking a spin around the pattern and a jaunt into the practice area with a CFI first.
Getting back into the swing of things is well worth the effort. Doing it safely, that’s the icing on the cake.
If you would like to tag along on my flight I grabbed a special picture postcard of the experience just so I could share it with you. Check it out, right here on AOPA Live.