getting back to microlight flying after a covid-19 layoff

Introduction

For many pilots it will have been some weeks since they last flew due to the Covid-19 lockdown. For some it may even have been months due to the poor weather that we experienced from September to March. We understand that pilots will be keen to get back to flying as soon as possible but urge a degree of caution before that first flight. The following guide gives some food for thought to prepare yourself for that very important first flight.

Mind-set

Recognise that however keen you are to fly and however experienced you might be any lay-off will have caused a reduction in your pilot skills. These will be both handling skills and thought processes. What might have been a simple task when fully current can become an overwhelming problem when out of practice.

Recognising your own potential shortfalls is the first step to avoiding becoming out of your depth in flight.

Planning

The more difficult the flight that you plan the more likely you are to reaching a state of overload before you rebuild your skill levels to what they were.

Start with a simple flight with limited opportunity for error. For example, plan to fly a session of circuits in good weather and on your own, unless you feel that it is wiser to take an instructor if this can be done safely with respect to virus contamination. On this flight you will minimise workload. You won’t have to change the altimeter setting. You won’t have to change the radio frequency. You won’t have to navigate. You won’t have the distraction of a passenger. The weather will be kind to you.

When you get back into practice you can start making the flight more complex. Leaving the airfield to the local area. Some basic handling practice. Returning and joining the circuit to land. Leave the long flights with multiple altimeter and radio frequency changes and an interested passenger until you are totally confident again.

Paperwork

Before going flying make sure that your personal paperwork is up to date. Check you licence, medical and insurance. Remember that when you do start to take passengers again you must have flown three take-offs and landings within the preceding 90 days. Many pilots won’t have done this, so check.

Just as important as your personal paperwork is that for the aircraft. Check that the Permit to Fly has a current Certificate of Validity and that any maintenance required is up to date. If you are a share owner don’t rely on others to have done this, check yourself.

Health

As always it is vital to ensure that you are healthy enough to operate the aircraft. The pneumonic I’MSAFE(E) is a useful check list that you can use before each flight. This is copied below.

Illness - Is the pilot suffering from any illness or symptom of an illness which might affect them in flight?

Medication - Is the pilot currently taking any drugs (prescription or over-the-counter)?

Stress - Is the pilot overly worried about other factors in their life? The psychological pressures of everyday living can be a powerful distraction and consequently affect a pilot's performance.

Alcohol - The pilot should consider their alcohol consumption within the last 8 to 24 hours.

Fatigue - Has the pilot had sufficient sleep and adequate nutrition?

Emotion - Has the pilot fully recovered from any extremely upsetting events such as the loss of a family member?

Eating- Has the pilot maintained physical functionality by proper eating.

Health also includes your mental attitude. Be keen to fly, but not at any costs. Be honest with yourself. There will always be another day.

 

The aircraft

As well as your layoff from flying the aircraft itself may have been sitting unused for some time. It is even more important than ever that thorough pre-flight preparation is carried out before attempting to fly.

Usual pre-flight checks of course, but remember that if the aircraft has been sitting for a while there may be other considerations.

Fuel quality doesn’t last forever. You may be wise to drain out any fuel that has laid in the tanks for a month or more.

Rubber parts like tyres and fuel and water tubes tend to dry out and may perish if not used. Make sure that none of the rubber parts show any signs of cracking. You will need to rotate the tyres to look for damage when they might have sat in the same place for a while, and to make sure that the brakes are operating.

Animal and insect damage can occur to an aircraft when parked for any length of time. Check thoroughly that there are no nests or chewed wiring. Make sure that vents are clear and, where fitted to an instrument, the instrument is working too.

Radio and Navigation aids

When planning, make sure that any radio frequencies that you might use are correct and that you understand how to enter them in the radio.

More pilots are now using a GPS enabled device to assist with navigation. This is being encouraged to help reduce the number of airspace infringements. Make sure that your device has current software and chart and that if used for flight planning it has the up to date NOTAM information. Some devices allow the pilot to turn off some features. It is recommended that any activity features such as gliding and parachute sites are turned on to give you the best picture of potential airspace hazards.

Finally make sure that the devices have sufficient power for the flight and are placed in a position where they can be of most use. There is very little point in leaving your navigation tablet in your flight bag,

Passengers

Even with the relaxed rules around Covid-19 lockdown there are still rules relating to social distancing. In a microlight it is impossible to stay 2 metres away from a passenger and so we advise extreme caution if taking anyone with you. Common sense must apply and if there is any chance that there might be a contamination between pilot and passenger then the flight should not take place. The rules allow close contact between members of the same family living in the same household, so under that circumstance passenger carrying in a microlight will be as safe as any other contact between those two people.

The rules for flying in England and Northern Ireland differ at present. In England you can fly with a member of your own household and syndicate owners can all fly the aircraft. In Northern Ireland no dual flying is allowed and only one member of a syndicate may use the aircraft. Wales and Scotland have yet to allow recreational flying.

If an aircraft is shared then due consideration must be given to disinfecting the aircraft between different pilots.

All surfaces must be cleaned with substances that will kill any virus that might be left on surfaces.

Airfields and Airspace

During the Covid-19 lockdown many airfields have closed as staff have been furloughed. This means that airfield maintenance may not have continued as normal. Make sure that the airfield is open before you go to fly, and be understanding if it’s not just yet. Even if you fly from your own grass strip, make sure that the condition of the strip is good before you attempt to fly. Is there a rabbit hole that wasn’t there before? Walk the strip to find out.

Many Air Traffic Service units have also furloughed staff and are operating on a very limited capacity. Your flight planning must be flexible so that you don’t rely upon assistance or clearances that may not be available due to low staffing levels. The CAA ask that you file a flight plan to enter controlled airspace so that the ATS unit can manage flow with limited capacity. Don’t expect too much too soon.

Clubs and schools

Most pilots will operate from an airfield with other people. It is important that social distancing and hygiene protocols are developed and followed. Best guidance comes from Government as published on the .gov website and television that we are all well aware of.

Other guidance

Other guidance will be published by the CAA and the Department for Transport in due course and we will forward the links. GASCo has also published an online briefing which is also a very helpful prompt ahead of a return to flying. This is the link https://www.gasco.org.uk/returntoflying.html

Summary

It is widely recognised that a long lay-off from flying will have a detrimental effect on pilot skills. Plan a safe return to flying by being cautious and aware of the dangers of reduced skills and mental capacity.

Please, follow the guidelines above to ease back into flying so that you stay safe.