Tips to Manage Flight Ops in a COVID-Ravaged World

As business aircraft flying increases again, what precautions and procedures has your Flight Department put in place to safeguard passengers? Andre Fodor shares tips from his own company’s flight operations…

Andre Fodor  |  15th October 2020
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    Andre Fodor
    Andre Fodor

    With a focused approach on global excellence and creativity, Andre Fodor has managed flight operations...

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    A crew member takes anti-COVID-19 measures in a Citation jet cabin

    Like so many flight departments worldwide, COVID-19 grounded our operations for many months. It started with fear among the principals to go anywhere beyond the confines of their homes, and it was exacerbated by global, statewide and local lock downs...

    Eventually, our corporate crisis response team restricted access to the office, production facilities and any type of business or private travel. By limiting movement and access, and implementing usage of personal protection devices and monitoring, our company, an essential services provider, did its part to prevent viral spread, while remaining productive and providing us with an opportunity to learn, adapt and rethink how we’d go about business in the future.

    Within the Flight Department, we worked hard to keep sharp, and I increased the on-line training and selected webinars for the team to attend. We networked virtually to keep everyone involved and informed of the current situation in our industry and company.

    In order to keep the team together monthly flights were scheduled with the specific goal of us training and keeping current.

    This allowed everyone the chance to exercise their skills, while getting the aircraft up to temperature and activating its systems frequently.

    It seemed odd at first to develop procedures in keeping with the COVID-19 guidelines (including wearing face masks, cleaning and sanitizing our workspace and aircraft), but in the end, we had a process. We became efficient at sanitizing the aircraft, creating control procedures for access to our offices and the aircraft.

    On top of this, a weekly COVID-19 PCR test was given to everyone in our team, thus ensuring we were ready should a trip request be received.

    Building Activity Safely Again…

    Months passed as we honed the processes without any flight demand. Then, recently, our flight department began receiving some travel requests again. They trickled in slowly at first. Then, as the company saw how serious the Flight Department was to keep them safe, more flight requests were received.

    At first, the requests didn’t require on-board catering, then only fast-food (purchased last minute) was consumed. Knowing that food control and internal preparation within the Flight Department is safer than outsourcing, we addressed these “quirks” sensitively, worked through to address every concern.

    So what were the policies we implemented to ensure the safest possible return to flight activity for our team and passengers? I share the following tips to help any other Flight Department in a similar position, and would welcome any additional tips and feedback on how your own Flight Department is managing the process.

    Mask and Gloves: For flight operations, we agreed that all on-board services and interactions with passengers would be under mask and nitrile gloves.

    Although not mandated, the same was encouraged and expected from our passengers. Therefore, we have equipped all of our aircraft with masks, gloves, thermometers and oximeters and explained in advance what our processes for pandemic flights and infection prevention are.

    The challenge has been to make sure the processes are followed, and that it becomes a new routine. To assist with this, we have offered the option to add a variety of essential oil aromas to the face masks.

    Though a simple step, it has helped encourage their use, while somewhat softening the inconvenience of having to wear a medical mask during flight.

    Catering: We have also been proactive in educating our customers that our own sourcing of food can guarantee that the origin, quality and safe preparation of all consumables meets with our own high standards. 

    Further, we are only allowing cooked goods on board that can be re-heated to high temperature in flight.

    Disembarkation: To decrease our passengers’ potential exposure to the virus, we have developed a routine for arrival and disembarkation. Vehicles are sanitized using our own approved products before the passengers enter them, since we cannot vet who delivers the car to the FBO.

    If our passengers are traveling to a hotel, we provide the material and instructions on how to sanitize their rooms (including door knobs and light switches) before using the space. And we also only use lodgings that have clear procedures for viral control.

    COVID Tests for International Travel: As the domestic flights proved safe and efficient, we began receiving international trip requests. The challenge was – and remains – the entry requirements. As an example, only recently we were assigned a trip to Europe.

    While it is critical to the success of an international flight to stay current on entry and border crossing requirements in Europe, we were also required to produce COVID-19 PCR test results that had been collected no later than 48 hours prior to landing.

    This provided a major challenge as results typically take many days to arrive. Nevertheless, we managed to secure testing from a private lab, sent a courier to drive and deliver the swabbed samples directly, and received the results six hours before our scheduled departure.

    To reduce the chance of any test surprises before departure, we conducted baseline tests on all passengers and crew one week before we were due to fly, providing us a basis to believe that all passengers and crew were unlikely to be infected. (Nevertheless, we had standby crew members assigned just in case.)

    But what if the lab results hadn’t arrived back in time for the flight? 

    Although the lab assured us they could turn the tests around in three hours and email the results to the destination’s handler before our scheduled arrival, we had a back-up plan. We identified an interim flight stop were we would be could land, get tested, and continue to our destination.

    With the lab results in hand, prior to take-off we made one last call to the destination’s handler for a final check of last minute entry requirement changes or disruptions. With everything set, we met with no issues at customs and our passengers and crew entered the country freely.

    In Summary…

    In this new (ab)normal world, Flight Departments must be flexible, keeping the lines of communication open and accepting that changes are likely to happen.

    Then it is our responsibility to educate and inform our passengers. They should be assured that – at a time it may seem to matter even more – we are dedicated to providing great service while also remaining extremely flexible in the circumstances.

    Ultimately, it’s our job as crew and managers to create a bubble of safety around our passengers and team members, including formulating the procedures to return everyone home safely and virus-free.

    It’s a new world out there and demand for our services is increasing. So, how will you showcase the safety, value and efficiency that your Flight Department provides?

    Read More About: COVID-19

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