General Aviation (GA) lockdown update
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Editor Philip Whiteman provides a lockdown update for General Aviation, including advice on whether you can go leisure flying and continue with flight training
At the time of going to press with the March issue of Pilot magazine, the Covid infection rate was only just beginning to fall, and national lockdown rules were still very much in force. For General Aviation, this essentially meant that no leisure flying was permitted, while ATOs providing training for professional pilots were allowed to continue with their programmes. Authorities stressed that flying instructors and support staff should be formally informed of the risks and all actions being taken to combat those risks. Instructors deemed clinically vulnerable were to continue to follow government advice.
Obviously, in most cases it is not possible to keep a distance of even one metre apart inside a training aircraft, so schools and instructors are expected to take actions to mitigate the risk of transmission.
Engine health and maintenance check flights can only take place where there is ‘a critical safety requirement to do so, and alternative options are not available’. (Note the safety-critical corrosion prevention measures reccomended by aero engine manufactuers?Ed). Such flights, where conducted, must be kept to the minimum duration possible and should be confined to landing at the same airfield from which they departed, except where this is outside the reasonable control of the pilot.
Training organisations and aerodrome operators should also assist the NHS Test and Trace service by keeping records of customers, visitors and staff to airfields for twenty-one days, and by providing data to NHS Test and Trace if requested.
Aerodrome operators involved in GA are encouraged to communicate with local communities. This is to ensure that the easing of restrictions on GA activity is understood not just by the GA community, but also by the general public – particularly those living near airfields. This is to avoid people becoming concerned by potential increases in airfield activity when the pandemic abates.
Air traffic services are still limited. NATS is trying to reduce non-essential activities, including services to GA to ensure the resilience of the critical air traffic management services, while complying with current guidance by not having more people on site than necessary. While most GA activity occurs outside of controlled airspace, and therefore does not involve NATS, pilots are reminded to be aware of the strain their activity places on other essential services.
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Lower airspace radar services continue to be offered on a ‘as and when possible’ basis, which means they can be turned off if necessary. Similarly, access to Class D could also be simply refused by the relevant air navigation service provider if it has to prioritise other airspace users. (We cite official word here, but do have to ask quite how much strain NATS is suffering in the almost complete absence of the commercial air traffic its operation is dedicated to protect?Ed.)
The CAA has published further information on its website about short term changes to help Air Traffic Control cope with the pandemic.