Fast 5: Managing Crews and Passenger Safety During COVID-19

Steven Foltz

Steven Foltz, a line pilot for a Part 91 and 135 operations, talks about balancing the two operations during the pandemic.

How is your flight department balancing crews and aircraft in light of COVID-19 to keep everyone safe? 

Our flight department has five pilots for two aircraft. Our primary purpose is to support the principal’s travel needs. Secondary to that comes charter support. Obviously, since last March, the situation has been evolving. But, first and foremost, our goal has been for the principals to be comfortable that they won’t be exposed to COVID while aboard their aircraft. In light of this, for owner trips, the assigned aircraft and crew are withheld from flying charters beginning seven days prior to the trip. We are also careful when assigning crew pairings to preclude a situation where a COVID-19 exposure could result in a grounding of the whole flight department due to cross-exposure. 

How has your flying changed because of COVID? 

Initially, both aircraft were removed from flying charters altogether. We then had a phase-in approach. In July, one aircraft was made available for domestic charters while the other was dedicated to support the principal. In December, both aircraft began flying domestic charters, but never at the same time. Our next phase will be to reinstate international charters. 

What best practices have you observed flying into and out of airports/FBOs? Do some airports/FBOs feel safer in terms of COVID?

Obviously, guidelines differ state to state, but everyone seems to be doing their part. I’ve seen common sense precautions implemented almost everywhere I’ve been, e.g. distance barriers between customer service reps and customers, plexiglass partitions, clean and dirty pen holders, etc. I definitely miss the free popcorn, cookies and coffee! 

Are aircraft being cleaned or disinfected differently than before the pandemic? 

Yes, much has changed. I think of it as having gone from ‘cleaning’ to ‘cleansing.’ As a line pilot I appreciate the way our management company proactively processes the constant stream of information and changes coming from all segments of our industry. They’ve done a good job of disseminating guidance to the workforce in a way that is clear, efficient and practical. Each account lead pilot has been assigned the responsibility of ensuring their aircraft is stocked with PPE as well as OEM-approved cleaning products. After each flight the cockpit and cabin are disinfected by the flight crew in accordance with OEM guidelines using approved products. A disinfection log is filled out or a “clean” status placard is placed in the window. Following interior servicing, our maintenance staff also follows wipe-down procedures. Addition cleaning methods, such as fogging, are utilized when appropriate. 

Your flight department flies for both its owner (under Part 91) and as a charter (under Part 135). How do you balance that and how do you manage conflicts? 

When a charter request comes in the assigned crew evaluates the trip. It used to be that we just evaluated the feasibility of a trip from a performance and operational perspective. Now we include a destination/hot-spot analysis in the evaluation. We then work with the charter sales team on addressing and mitigating COVID risks, as necessary. Communication has been key in navigating this pandemic. We understand the principals’ desire for a conservative balance between supporting their travel needs while also, as appropriate, generating charter revenue. We are fortunate to have a strong department lead who works alongside our management company on striking the balance.

Lee Ann Shay

As executive editor of MRO and business aviation, Lee Ann Shay directs Aviation Week's coverage of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), including Inside MRO, and business aviation, including BCA.