What to do and How to Recover from Lack of Recency
Last week the UK lifted quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers from the US & EU with the hope of increasing international travel. As more countries around the world loosen travel restrictions, it’s exciting to see aviation activity on the rise once again. But after such a long lull, it is important that pilots and crews are up-to-date and in compliance.
As the pandemic slowed aviation, pilots began flying less and less, or sometimes not at all. Restrictions to travel and social distancing prevented crews from participating in regular training and proficiency checks, to the point where the FAA began allowing exemptions and extensions to recency, training, and medical requirements. It wasn’t long into the pandemic that the industry started to realize that lack of recency could become a problem for pilots. A review of NASA reports for business aviation aircraft shows that the average flight crew hours reported within the last 90 days fell from 86.96 hours in 2019 to just 66.3 hours in 2020.
Now that flight activity is increasing, operators need to take the necessary steps to respond to and mitigate the risks associated with a long lapse in operations and lack of recency due to the pandemic. Operators need to review Standard Operating Procedures related to high safety consequences first (such as altitude callouts, stabilized approach criteria, takeoff abort procedures, etc.). Additionally, since International procedures change frequently, they should be reviewed prior to any international trip.
Updates to manuals and authorizations should ideally be part of a change management process. This could simply be in the form of bulletins or change notifications, which can be managed internally or via a third-party vendor. Now is also the ideal time to employ a Safety Management System (SMS) and focus on the following safety report types: Safety Risk Profile, Risk Assessment, Deviation Report, Change Management, and Hazard Report. These reports can help operators ensure the safety of their flights as they navigate today’s “new risks”, such as crews with little flight time in the last 90 days.
In addition to SMS and international procedures, operators need to double check the status of any ongoing health crises or geopolitical tensions for countries they plan to overfly and visit, and ensure the intended landing and diversion airport(s) have the resources they may need, such as fuel, maintenance, health, and security services.
Lastly, while COVID protocols from vaccinations to travel restrictions are top of mind, remember to check general documentation beyond COVID requirements such as other required vaccinations, passports, and visas that now require more time to obtain and could potentially hinder travel for crewmembers.
The world is finally opening up again, but we cannot forget that during the past 18 months many of us stayed grounded. The lull in operations often leading to a lack of recency makes it imperative that operators start preparing now so they will have the time, options, and the know-how to handle the unexpected and to ensure a safe and smooth trip.