Thursday, March 26, 2020

Risk Assessment.

In many states and communities, nonessential businesses have been ordered to close, taking that decision out of the hands of business owners. Aviation-related businesses, including flight schools, are included on the U.S. government’s list of essential businesses published by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which most states are following. However, it’s worth checking state and local directives, because flight schools might be listed among the nonessential enterprises that must close their doors. AOPA Link

Obviously, all the now fully understood CDC protocols should be followed: avoiding unnecessary travel, social distancing, frequent hand-cleansing etc. But since”social distancing” in a training aircraft is obviously not possible, constant cleansing, by the pilot before (and after) every flight of all surfaces with approved disinfectants is essential. Obviously, NO sharing of any personal items (especially headsets) is axiomatic. And to be honest, there is an element of trust here too. People training together have to be personally careful and absolutely truthful about previous recent travel and contacts if the group of pilots sharing airplanes and facilities is going to be safe. 

Regarding this issue, an urban setting with a more transient clientele is going to be more dangerous since the chance of exogenous COVID-19 contact from social mixing is greater. If you are a smaller club of less-mobile, regular known members in northern Idaho, you are probably going to be safer. I would highly recommend eliminating “Discovery Flights” to strangers for the same reason – potentially bringing germs into your “protected zone of known operators.” SAFE Link

Last week in this space, I suggested Covid-19 safe practices in the flight instruction environment. I wrote that in the optimistic hope that it would be sufficient. It's not. With the guidance of health professionals from both public health agencies and in private practice and with the goal of helping "flatten the curve" in mind, it's time to reassess. Some may disagree, but I believe it's time to stand down and refrain from in-cockpit flight instruction until we have broken the back of this pandemic. I say this because I cannot imagine a way of practicing any form of social distancing within the confines of an aircraft cockpit. Bob Meder, NAFI Board Chair

“Here’s the bottom line,” Merrill said. “Everyone should make every possible attempt to stay home unless you’re an essential business. And if you just can’t, you still have to maintain a 6-foot distance. And if you can’t, then you have no business being in that place because you’re putting yourself and everyone else at risk.”

The rules will apply to residents of Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City and unincorporated Hillsborough County. If approved Thursday, the rules go into effect at 10 p.m. Friday. Tampa Times Link

So, how to assess this? Some pundits on Facebook have determined that a Flight School is an essential business. Why, because it is a part of the national transportation industry. Not buying it. (While I hesitate to state this, I suspect the pilot shortage just got solved for the next year or so.)

Flight schools work on a razor thin budget. Already this year I've seen a 20% increase in insurance. ADS-B is an expensive mandatory maintenance upgrade for 2020. Hangar fees continue to climb, airplane fixed costs don't go away. A month without revenue could kill my business.

I've heard that two flying clubs at the same airport have taken different actions for this issue. One has closed the other stayed open. I bet the repercussions will ripple through their board meetings for years.

What to do?

My March 12th email to all students.

The coronavirus has the highest impact on elderly people. In case you haven't noticed, that would be me. Please do not come to the airport if you're sick. (Use IMSAFE). If you have just traveled to an infected part of the country, please cancel the flight even though you may feel fine. We can always reschedule. 

My March 17th email to all students.

I must use an abundance of caution and stop training flights until the coronavirus threats are over. I hope to start up again on April 1st. Stay safe. 

April 1st, 2020: an update.

My school is closed indefinitely.

However I do intend to fly solo. I did Monday and made these notes: "It was quiet at KVDF, a few planes in the pattern but definitely not the volume of planes flying at a healthy airport. I did a T&G AT X39, went up to Pilot Country, wandered over to KPCM (closed for repairs) did some ground reference maneuvers and headed home. Radio was nearly silent. Except for a few “radio checks” I spoke to no one. Restored my soul. Safe arrival KVDF."

I plan to fly as often as I can. Its great to get away from the COVID-19 news.

BTW: just an amateur observation: The two curves we always see show an early peak if we do nothing and a lower peak (extended in time) if we follow the government guidelines. That's important so that our healthcare system can handle the load. But the area under both curves is the same. So the same number of people are going to get the virus. If you are in an endangered group you are hoping that by reducing the peak you are giving hospitals time to find you a bed and our researchers time to find a cure to change the curve completely. Come on J&J!
April 9th, 2020: an update.

As the United States enters a period that administration health officials are saying could be the strongest wave of COVID-19 infections yet, we’re hearing more and more reports of aircrew members falling ill with the virus. Unions representing flight attendants have begun to share that many members have tested positive. And the numbers are concerning. Plane and Pilot

I've received requests from my students returning from college wanting to book training slots for the summer. I told them I cannot open my schedule until there is evidence that the pandemic has subsided or our medical researchers have developed an acceptable prescription to alleviate the symptoms. I will checkpoint with them in June.

April 11th, 2020: an update.

A flight school in Florida recently had the police show up at their facility and told them they needed to terminate all operations, in spite of the fact that they had enhanced cleaning methods in place, and screening of staff and students. They contacted their attorneys and are currently still operating in a limited manner after that interaction. The school specifically stated that if they are forced to close, they will be closing their doors permanently if they need to close more than 30 days.

The state of Maryland has similarly told providers of flight training that they must stop their efforts. Two training providers (both operate multiple aircraft) have indicated that they will be closed permanently if they are prohibited from operating more than 30 days.

An FBO that offers training in Pennsylvania reported that they were told by local officials that they must terminate any in-person flight training in aircraft. When they indicated they would close the business as a result, they were told that they couldn’t do that and had to stay open because they were also the provider of fuel at the airport. Their airport management indicated to them that they must keep that service open or they would terminate the FBO’s airport operations contract. What’s a Flight Instructor to Do Now?

BTW: Another amateur observation. Last month all of the discussion was about "flattening the curve". Our social distancing was done to insure hospital beds and medical personnel would be available to take care of the sick. Now the talk has changed and is about keeping people from getting sick at all (even if the hospital will not be overwhelmed.) I would like to make my own call on this new strategy. I'll "keep my distance" but would like the option to go have a pizza (or fly with a student) if I want too. 
April 14th, 2020: an update.

“I don’t know of a magical date when everything would be okay again,” said Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida.

And yesterday, the state's surgeon general, Scott Rivkees, warned we can't expect it anytime soon: Floridians might need to practice social distancing and wear face masks until a COVID-19 vaccine exists, which could take a year.

“Until we get a vaccine, which is a while off, this is going to be our new normal and we need to adapt and protect ourselves,” he said.

He was then whisked away by the governor's spokeswoman. Watch the video here.

In Hillsborough, a curfew and confusion. Hillsborough County has enacted one of Tampa Bay's most stringent pandemic measures: A curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. is now in effect.

Officials want to curb large gatherings to slow coronavirus infections. But can residents jog or walk their dogs? That is still unclear.

What is clear is that residents soon will have to wear face masks when conducting essential business. The county’s Emergency Policy Group likely will pass the measure Thursday. Tampa Bay Times.

In aviation we’re often faced with the questions of could versus should. The FARs provide a baseline of could, but it’s our training in aeronautical decision making and our past experiences shaping our judgement that decide should. AOPA

April 16th, 2020: an update.

During last year’s flu season, according to the CDC, 490,561 people in the U.S. were hospitalized due to the seasonal flu virus. The prior year, it was 810,000 flu hospitalizations. This explains why, as we noted here, America’s hospitals have not been overwhelmed by the number of Wuhan flu sufferers, not even in New York City. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations falls well within the natural variability in flu hospitalizations that we always see from year to year. Powerline blog

April 17th, 2020: an update.

According to the sheriff's office, response teams were called to the business multiple times after getting complaints on April 3, twice on April 7, April 10 and April 16.

During those calls, deputies say Wood was issued several warnings but refused to close the store and became argumentative.

On Thursday, deputies say Wood again refused to close and was arrested around 6 p.m. He is charged with operating a non-essential business and traveling to operate a non-essential businessarrested for violating safer-at-home order

My April 17th email to all students:

I hope you are all well and taking precautions to stay that way. My family is fine, although weary of "hunkering down" and the weather has been lousy for exercising Sally. Hopefully, it will get better this week.

So Hillsborough County still shows an increase in cases each day but the rate of change seems to be decreasing. This is good news. However, I'm trying to determine when we can start flying together again. Previously I could let my students use their best judgment by using IMSAFE. That doesn't work anymore, There are too many asymptomatic carriers that would pass that test. How do I judge when it is OK to let someone in the cockpit with me? Until I get better guidance I plan to use the Federal Gating Guidelines as the primary reference for my decision. (see attached.) I will use the Hillsborough County daily statistics as my data source. (LINK)

These changes will also be made to our normal flight ops:
  1. We will meet at my hangar rather than the FBO. Preflights, briefs and debriefs will be done there to avoid unnecessary contact with others. I will provide the gate code.
  2. I will no longer provide a headset.
  3. Only one flight will be scheduled per day. With the summer heat coming upon us that flight will probably start at 9:00 AM or sooner. As always we will not fly in temperatures above 90 degrees.
  4. Students will provide their own supplies for cleaning the cockpit prior to and after each flight.
My next status will be on May 2nd. I would appreciate any ideas or inputs you may have.

April 27th, 2020 an update:

My school is still closed. I've bee watching the statistics for Hillsborough Country to see if we have "reached the peak." We currently have 1028 cases, an increase of  7.7% over last week. Not quite there yet.

3 Coronavirus Facts Americans Must Know Before Returning To Work, School.
  1. Fact 1: Staying home saves lives but it doesn’t kill the virus. As I stated earlier, the area under the curve is the same. So staying in my house doesn't kill the virus however it does make it less likely for me to catch it. 
  2. Fact 2: We’re in this for the long-haul. The coronavirus will persist until there is either (a) a safe vaccine (still 12 to 18 months away) or (b) until there is “herd immunity,” whereby two-thirds of the nation (about 200 million people) must become infected, recover and develop the appropriate antibodies. This, too, will take at least a year. I can't wait for either one of these two options.
  3. Fact 3: Our nation is ignoring the most important metric: R0 (pronounced “R naught”) is a number that indicates the contagiousness of an infectious disease like COVID-19. Specifically, it tells us the average number of unvaccinated (or otherwise vulnerable) people who will contract a disease from one contagious individual. Early data suggests the R0 of COVID-19 is between 2.5 and 3.0. However, the actual number depends not only on the biology of the disease but on the actions people take. So I plan to take actions to to limit the way I might get this thing. Masks, gloves, in depth cleaning and of course, washing my hands.

I went flying today (solo). I didn't talk to anyone on the ground. I made my normal position reports in the air. It was about 1.3 hours of not thinking about this $@(&*.

My May 3rd, 2020 status to all students:


I believe we have a much better understanding of the pandemic and its impact on our society. I also think opening up the lockdown is a good idea however, I'm not ready to do so just yet.

Hillsborough just had a large spike this weekend with nearly a 20% week to week rise in known cases. I think this is mostly due to increased testing but regardless it shows the virus is still very active in our community. Wear your mask, wash your hands, be safe.

My family and I are doing fine. I fly Sally regularly (solo) to keep her exercised and myself proficient. The pattern at KVDF is pretty quiet. I miss flying with you.

I'll provide a new status on May 16th.


May 7th, 2020 an update:

From NAFI:

"Good Job, Jack Pelton
One of the lessons we teach our students is the art and science of aeronautical decision-making. As defined by the FAA in AC 60-22, ADM "is a systematic approach to the mental process used by aircraft pilots to consistently determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances."

When you read EAA CEO Jack Pelton's announcement that AirVenture 2020 has been cancelled (see below), that is precisely the process that was followed by that organization. It had to have been a very difficult decision, knowing the emotional impact that it had on the aviation community along with the economic consequences for both EAA, the industry, and the Oshkosh region, and I'm sure all of that was taken into account."

"My conclusion is, like in any good flight planning, don't take the risk. Therefore, I have no choice but to cancel AirVenture 2020. Together, we can come back stronger, safer and ready for AirVenture 2021 and create a memorable world class aviation event. Because of our dedicated and enthusiastic EAA members, our Association is strong. We know that at some point this storm will pass. And over the next 12 months we will continue to support all of you as we again, together, grow EAA in the Spirit of Aviation." ~Jack Pelton

May 20th, 2020 an update:

To my students:

Hillsborough County still shows an increase in cases each day but the rate of change seems to be decreasing. As of May 17th, the week to week change has been +10% in reported cases, most of which coming from nursing homes. So while the virus is still active in our community I believe we can move forward with caution. I plan to partially open the school on June 2nd unless we see a spike in new cases. I will not do any Discovery Flights but otherwise maintain a normal schedule.

Some of you may feel it is still too soon to start, in which case please don't schedule until you are comfortable. If you work in an area where the risk of infection is already high, please don't schedule. 

These changes will also be made to our normal flight ops:
  1. We will meet at my hangar rather than the FBO. Preflights, briefs and debriefs will be done there to avoid unnecessary contact with others. I will provide the gate code.
  2. I will no longer provide a headset.
  3. Only one flight will be scheduled per day. With the summer heat coming upon us that flight will probably start at 9:00 AM or sooner. As always we will not fly in temperatures above 90 degrees.
  4. Students will provide their own supplies for cleaning the cockpit prior to and after each flight.
  5. I will no longer supply a seat cushion.
Please contact me with any questions.


This morning I read this in my local newspaperOne day before a top Florida Department of Health data manager lost her role maintaining the state’s COVID-19 data, she objected to the removal of records showing people had symptoms or positive tests before the cases were announced, according to internal emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

The dashboard that Jones managed is the best official source for in-depth data on how the deadly pandemic is moving through the state. Studying it is the surest way to know where outbreaks are growing and where testing is being done. Without access to the data, Floridians would have to rely on the word of officials and politicians without being able to verify for themselves.

So the data I use to make my Go/No Go decision my be corrupted.

May 25th, 2020 an update:

Lockdowns failed to alter the course of pandemic and are now destroying millions of livelihoods worldwide, JP Morgan study claims. JP Morgan research said infection rates had fallen since lockdowns were eased. It suggested the virus 'has its own dynamics' which are 'unrelated' to lockdowns. Report said they were imposed with little thought of 'economic devastation'

Author Marko Kolanovic, a trained physicist and a strategist for JP Morgan, said governments had been spooked by 'flawed scientific papers' into imposing lockdowns which were 'inefficient or late' and had little effect

June 3rd, 2020 an update:

Dr. Anthony Fauci now says that a second wave of COVID-19 may not even happen and that wearing a mask is largely symbolic at this point. Link

I opened the school and flew with a student yesterday. We exercised COVID19 safety recommendations and flew a normal training flight. It was great to be back to work.!

June 9th, 2020 final update:

Preliminary evidence from the earliest outbreaks indicated that the virus could spread from person-to-person contact, even if the carrier didn’t have symptoms. But WHO officials now say that while asymptomatic spread can occur, it is not the main way it’s being transmitted. 

“From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said at a news briefing from the United Nations agency’s Geneva headquarters. “It’s very rare.”Link here

I went to my Doctor yesterday for a visit. My blood was taken for routine analysis. I asked them to check for the COVID antibodies.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A New Angle

Video Link: A New Angle

A new student and I sat in the runup area for RWY5. He was going through the checklist and I monitored the results as he tested the mags and carb heat. It was a busy day at KVDF. A lot of flight schools trainers were doing their circuits and my attention occasionally got diverted to watch them land.  I looked over my student's shoulder to make sure the canopy hooks were in place and then turned to check my own. Out on the runway, all was not well. A plane fouled the right side of the runway, tail sticking straight up in the air. I called on the CTAF to let the busy traffic pattern know that RWY5 was now closed. We went over to RWY36 and took off from there.

I spoke to the airport manager once we got back. A student on her first solo had porpoised and botched the landing. She is fine but the C150 was totaled. I hope she can "get back on the horse", but I doubt it.

In other events, my CFI insurance is up over 20% this year.

I started working with Jeff, a "snowbird" down for the winter trying to avoid the brutal Illinois weather. His Sting experienced an ADSB failure and I helped ferry his plane from SRQ to VDF. We did some testing, worked with the expert on the phone at Garmin and eventually decided to take to the great folks at Gulf Coast Avionics at LAL. We used the ADAPT flight plan app to fly in the Tampa airspace.  Josh took most of the afternoon readjusting the settings to correct the problem.

I'll work with Jeff to help him get his Sport Pilot license before his winter stay in Florida ends. Jeff just passed his Knowledge TEST!

One student has been practicing short field landings. The ACS states:
Touch down at a proper pitch attitude within 200 feet beyond or on the specified point, threshold markings, or runway numbers, with no side drift, minimum float, and with the airplane’s longitudinal axis aligned with and over runway centerline.
How do you measure that? I added a new camera mount to the bottom of the airplane and made a test flight. The video referenced above shows the results. Each centerline stripe has a standard length of 120'. Each space between the stripes is 80'. (The size of the painted runway designation numbers should be 60 feet tall and 20 feet wide.) Link

So, if your intended point of landing is the beginning of the stripe, you must touch down PRIOR to the beginning of the next stripe.

(Watch the video and tell me how I did.) I have gotten a bit busy. The school has seven students now, most are scheduled once a week. The winter weather has been good and Sally is holding up well. (Brakes and tires are keeping me busy.)

And most importantly, we are having fun.