Resuming flights after the Covid closure

Airlines are starting to rise from the dirt, and like an ancient phoenix shaking the dust off their wings and starting to take off. In some countries, the process has already begun and in some cases, most of the planes are still on the ground, but in all cases, the return to the air of the entire aviation industry in the world is not so simple. Many have asked me about the process and challenges involved in restarting the mighty aviation system, and in this article I will try to cover all aspects.

In short – what is it all about?

As these lines are being written, the end of the summer of 2020 the world airport is in an unprecedented coma; Since February this year, world flights have been significantly reduced. More than 16,000 grounded passenger planes worldwide. They are parked in the parking lots and runways of the airports and in areas allotted for it in various places. Hundreds of thousands of pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, and other workers in the various industries stopped working. For all of these the clock is ticking, and as time goes on, the challenge of getting back into the flight of the many planes, people, and systems that make up the world of flight increases.


The planes

A passenger plane is a wonderful machine. The plane is built with a unique concept that I detailed in one article, the essence of which is built for safety. The plane is designed to be in the air. Whoever asks himself when the planes fly again and again when they are resting, will get the simple answer – the plane is “resting” in the air.

Planes on the ground, Amsterdam

The structure of the aircraft is built so that most of the time the weight of the aircraft will be carried by the wings, in a cold and dry environment. This is exactly what the plane is designed for. When planes are in storage, they stand on their passenger pedestals, without movement, and their structure does not “like” it. Of course, such a stand will not cause the planes to fall apart, but many parts of the plane, and especially the engine, need regular lubrication and movement and such long storage does not provide them with all of these. The hot environment, which sometimes also involves high humidity, damages rubber and plastic parts that dry out and crack. Aircraft manufacturers issue to the airlines precise instructions regarding handling aircraft during long storage, and the meanings (how not) increase depending on the duration of storage. In this article, you can get more details about the challenges of prolonged storage of aircraft. Some airlines prefer to take the planes out for a short “ventilation flight” while grounded to avoid very expensive maintenance operations. But assuming the necessary actions are indeed taken; it can be said that returning to the flight of aircraft after the storage is a challenge, but not the biggest in the whole chain.

The pilots

The pilot profession is one of the most demanding, especially in terms of training and maintaining competence. In short: a pilot loses his license every six months and has to undergo training/testing in a flight trainer (simulator) to renew his license. It is clear that such a long ground where it is impossible to get even such simulator training will cause many pilots to lose their license. In addition; To stay fit we are required to take off and land regularly. The law in Israel (and in most countries of the world) requires that each pilot fly 3 takeoffs and 3 landings every 90 days.

Resuming Flights – me in China

In such a grounding of several months, most pilots lose the required number of take-offs and landings, and a return to fly requires training in a simulator. In a number of countries, including Israel, the authorities have eased this requirement in light of the corona, but as the land continues to grow, this relief will not suffice either. The more fundamental challenge, in the pilots’ vision, is to preserve the knowledge and skill of flying an airplane. Therefore it is necessary to ensure that pilots return to flying after undergoing refresher and training as required. At the beginning of the corona crisis, I went on a 9-week leave. When I got back to flying I did so slowly and carefully. The first flight was with a senior pilot who did not stop flying all this time, and before the flight, I underwent extensive refresher training on the aircraft, its systems, and other updates. The world of aviation is constantly advancing and those who do not keep up to date, even for a short period, must complete material. A rough calculation of about 20 pilots per plane brings us to a huge number of 300,000 ground pilots. Returning to active flight of all these is a significant challenge for all airlines in the world. For airlines that maintain active routes and a relatively large number of pilots flying – this challenge will be easier. 

Maintenance personnel

Like pilots, maintenance people in the aviation world are required to have a license to perform their mission. The conditions for maintaining the license for maintenance personnel are less restrictive than those for pilots, but they must also receive periodic training as a condition for maintaining the license, and when they decide to return to flying – it will be necessary to make sure all technicians are refreshed as required. The connection between the great effort to use the planes after storage, which will require maintenance personnel, and a massive refresh of all the maintenance workers who will return from the forced vacations, is also not a simple challenge. The engines are also flying again. The maintenance people take care of that

The rest of the workers return to fly

The aviation industry is labor-intensive. If we said that each plane needs about 20 pilots to operate it efficiently around the clock, consider how many flight attendants are needed. The hemispheres are enormous. Of course, we must not forget that there are also security people, logistics, food, cleaning, airport workers. This industry, which is largely paralyzed today, will have to accelerate itself back to activity, as soon as the sky opens. Some workers will not return, after finding other jobs, and will usually be the higher quality ones who will be able to find another job or reinvent themselves into another industry. The aviation world, which has suffered the most severe blow, and is expected to recover one last time, will face the challenge of starting – RESTART in its entirety.

How dangerous is it?

We have reached the bottom line. Quite a few approached me with the question of how dangerous it would be to return to flying the day after the opening of the sky. Of course, this is a forecast, and I can not know for sure what will happen, but in my opinion, the guidelines are as follows: In some of the countries, and especially in airlines that have maintained a core of pilots and aircraft that fly, returning to flight will not be a safety issue. The general attention and high awareness of the challenge of returning to flight are the ones that will ensure the possibility of making this transition in a controlled and safe manner. Unfortunately, the recovery is supposed to be slow mainly for other reasons, of the general recession and health regulations but these will allow the airlines to make the transition in a gradual way. As usual, in the less developed countries, where even on days like theirs there are significant squeaks in aviation, we expect the definition of returning to fly to bring with it safety incidents as well, and hopefully, these will not be severe. As always, the last barrier to aviation is the pilots.