Managing COVID-19 Risk in Flight Training/Testing

In facing the COVID-19 threat, it is fortunate that aviators are trained in the factual analysis of environmental threats and risk management. Pilots mostly deal with reality and physical laws. If we avoid the social media-driven hysteria, it is still possible that flight training at some level can proceed (but carefully!)

From the information we’ve seen, COVID-19 is transmitted through environmental contact with infected surfaces or airborne close contact with infected people. Though avoiding infected people is the key, COVID-19 has a “stealth mode” of “infected but asymptomatic” that makes this virus tricky (it can take 5 days to show symptoms). To avoid asymptomatic carriers,  considering location, mobility, and honest historical record are key factors for assuring your safety (unless you totally isolate yourself). Regarding everyone as infected (social distancing) is the wisest strategy (but not possible in a training aircraft!)

To be clear, the only absolute safety from COVID-19 (like absolute safety in flying) means total avoidance. To paraphrase Wilbur Wright on being “perfectly safe” in aviation; stay on the ground!  Similarly, wIth COVID-19 please stay home (and perhaps fumigate your mail and groceries) if that is the level of “perfect safety” you are seeking. Personally, I think if we carefully manage the COVID-19 risk by applying careful precautions and protocols, we can continue to flight train and test. For the best, very detailed, analysis of the COVID-19 virus and propagation see this blog post by our SAFE Treasurer, Dr. Parvez Dara.

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. If there is even one confirmed case, everybody has to go into quarantine and these fliers are done until cleared. A good (and simple) precaution before flying is a simple body temperature check with a non-contact digital thermometer. This will not eliminate risk (or identify all infections) but catch any undetected symptoms. Elevated temperature is one of the first symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

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.”

And ultimately, flight training is not all “yank and bank” requiring flight to learn and grow. Safe flying also requires building knowledge and keeping your mind in the game which can be done safely at home through webinars and “chair flying.” If you have a personal simulator, you have a great method of currency. And accessing quality online education will keep your mind in the game and prevent backsliding.

SAFE is working with Gold Seal Ground School to present a weeklong aviation experience for frustrated aviators disappointed by cancellations. We are still working on a title but the idea is to simulate the canceled event in Florida. Gold Seal will have a daily live game show featuring aviation trivia questions with prizes. And live evening programming will feature guests and new products you would have seen in Florida. Log-in here to get on a list for upcoming announcements and more details about this exciting week-long show as we build it out!

Many schools have closed due to the threat of COVID-19 infection and spread. Please comment below on the precautions your flight school is taking in these challenging times. In our district three schools have suspended training and two DPEs are not flying any flight tests due to COVID-17 threat.


SAFECFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?) June10/11 at Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

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Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI, 141Chief Instructor, FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently flying 135 charter (again)

3 thoughts on “Managing COVID-19 Risk in Flight Training/Testing”

  1. The flight school is still operating but I think some of us CFIs, and students, are staying away. I’m staying away for now. I’m 71 and a very active CFI that has around 15-20 students currently. They understand my concerns. I hate it but I want to be around longer. Hopefully the world can get this under control, appears to have subsided in China.

  2. “ Obviously, all the now fully understood CDC protocols should be followed: avoiding unnecessary travel, ”
    Uhm. Are you saying flight training is necessary? I don’t think you can say to obviously follow CDC protocols and then continue on to describe how to reduce risk while breaking them.
    I’m personally wrestling with this—I don’t want to stop my training but I am making my kids stop things they don’t want to stop.

    1. Most schools seem to be closing for at least a two-week period to evaluate the extent of the current infection. I think the whole country is in a “hunker down, wait and see” mode. Three schools in our area are now closed to any dual training but allowing required solo (within limitations of endorsements) to continue. This will be tough for everyone…stay safe!

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