Flying in the Age of COVID-19

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My wife and I just returned from a week-long trip to Colorado’s ski country and experienced the current airline travel system first-hand. (No, we don’t fly one of our Experimentals on trips like these because we haven’t yet built a Moose that will carry four pairs of skis and all the rest of the gear—our friends at Southwest do just fine!). Denver International Airport on a Saturday afternoon was a mix of empty and crowded—empty in the concourse while waiting for our flight, but very crowded at the TSA checkpoint and on the underground train between terminals.

In fact, the train is where we decided that (A) the nationwide spread of the Novel Coronavirus is inevitable, and (B) there is no way to avoid infected people if you are in public places. For those reasons, we decided that as recent travelers to places where the virus has been positively identified, we’d self-isolate for long enough to ensure we don’t spread the thing to our many friends here at our airpark, most of whom (ourselves included) are in that “elevated age demographic.” It’s the responsible thing to do, and really not that much of an imposition on our lives. The pantry is well-stocked, we have plenty to keep us busy (the workshop list never shrinks) and most of the public events we had on our calendars have been canceled anyway.

The whole High Sierra spread out to the north

In fact, since we live with our airplanes, flying is not out of the picture at all. The same thing is probably true for those who have to drive to the airport to get their aviating machinery. Get in the car alone, drive to the hangar (or tie-down) and work alone to get aloft. Statistically, I think that the majority of personal Experimental aircraft flying is done solo, so as long as you can avoid the temptation to socialize, you are really isolated the whole time. Self-serve fuel pumps are usually well away from other people, and the virus doesn’t spread very far “on the wind” so to speak (as best we know). Personally, I always have gloves in my jacket pocket or in the airplane, and these can be donned to avoid touching anything others have touched. I’ll probably want to avoid the temptation for an airport diner breakfast or $100 hamburger—but hey, I’m still trying to lose that holiday weight anyway, so I’ll give myself diet points for the isolation.

The way I see it, we (as a population) are learning more about this pandemic every day—more about the risk of contagion, the way it is going to spread and the seriousness of becoming infected. That means we don’t know all of the factors we would like to know in order to manage the potential risk. And the way a good pilot handles unknown risk is to be conservative: Plan for the worst, and be happy when it turns out that you’ve used more caution than needed. That’s as good a strategy for handling a weather situation as it is for handling a rapidly-developing disease.

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What this means for the average homebuilder is that you should be happy to self-isolate (at least to some extent). You can still fly, and if you have a project, consider this extra time in the shop. Yeah, you will probably have to delay that wing-hanging party, and maybe delay anything like group inspections of a project. But we can all use some quality alone time in our shop…don’t you think? I know I have countless projects to work on to keep the fleet in good shape and I might just get some condition inspections out of the way. I’ll have to put off a couple of aircraft flight reviews I had on the schedule (which require travel) but, overall, the advantages of airports are that they are huge areas with a very low density of human population.

Except for those airport diners. You’ll just have to rely on your own self control to manage that risk.

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Paul Dye
Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen, and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra they completed. Currently, they are building a Xenos motorglider. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 5000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor, as well as a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.

1 COMMENT

  1. Has anyone had experience of flying into GA airports that do not have card activated fuel? My worry is fuel pumped by local FBO will not be available. Also, rental cars seem to still be available but hotels are shuttered.

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