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The government is now allowing some flying – but only that which is authorised by the CAA. Vector Online has been speaking to CAA specialists about what to do before taking an essential maintenance flight.

Covered aeroplane with long grass

Before anything else

Be absolutely certain the flight you’re about to take is crucial maintenance to prevent the airworthiness of your aircraft degrading.

It must comply with the conditions and limitations in Continuing Airworthiness Notice 05-011, published on the CAA website on 20 April 2020.

Fly only after receiving CAA approval. Go to Aircraft maintenance information for more information and to apply.

Preflight

When you’re itching to get in the air again, it takes some self-discipline to carry out a really good preflight.

But take that time, because in addition to your usual thorough going-over, the month of non-operations will have left its mark.

“For instance, wildlife may have claimed human domains,” says CAA Aviation Safety Advisor Carlton Campbell.

“It’s the wrong time of year for birds’ nests, but check all cavities for other critters who may have taken up lodging, such as bugs in the pitot or static tubes/appertures.

“Look for evidence of rats or mice chewing at wires or fabric. And for bird excrement contaminating surfaces or components.

“If you haven’t been able to get to your aircraft and fill the tanks, be very aware there could be water in the fuel.

“If a split master is available, start on battery initially before turning alternator switch on, to get the best energy for start from the battery.”

Give the windscreen a good clean – even in a hangar it will have accumulated a film of dust and other matter.

“Giving your aircraft a wash first will get rid of accumulated dust and dirt. That will help you get a really good look at all the exterior surfaces,” says Mark Boyle, leader of the CAA’s licensing and flight training team.

Double check all covers and blanks are removed, and check the tyres and struts are inflated correctly.

You

You’ve checked the aircraft – now how about you?

Again, don’t let your eagerness to be in the air override your good judgement. Ask, am I really safe to fly?

“It may be only an essential maintenance flight, but it’s possible it’s going to be busy up there. You’re going to need every ounce of skill, alertness and physical fitness to make good decisions,” says Carlton Campbell.

“The ‘I’m Safe’ mnemonic stands for illness; medication; stress; alcohol; fatigue and eating. Make sure you take the time to properly consider how you are with each one.”

Helicopter operations

The advice to helicopter pilots and fixed-wing pilots is the same. Over the duration of lockdown some skills may have begun to ‘perish’.

CAA’s Aviation Examiner (helicopter) Andy McKay says pilots should also consider if their mind “is really in the game, or in the external issues of finance and health”.

“It’s a really big deal what’s happened to the world. Often our ability to suck it up and carry on can interfere with normal decision-making, and exercising sound judgement.

“Take your time, ‘pause’ and genuinely consider what you’re about to do. Even if it’s a short essential maintenance flight.”

Andy also suggests adopting more of a risk-based approach.

“Consider that – no matter how experienced you are – due to the lockdown, there’ll be an increase in risk. You’re not as current as you normally would be, and, similarly, the helicopter has sat inactive for four weeks.”

Andy says especially consider the preflight.

“Treat the helicopter as if just emerged from a major rebuild. Discuss anything that crops up during the preflight with your maintenance controller or contractor.”

Noise control

In terms of aviation noise, the ‘new normal’ of the lockdown has been… silence.

CAA Aviation Examiner Katrina Witney is encouraging pilots to fly neighbourly.

“Make sure to plan your essential maintenance flight before the event.

“Take into consideration your flight path and altitude to avoid operating above or near built-up areas.”

Ramp courtesy

In what is expected to be a busy time at some aerodromes, ‘be kind’ at the pumps. Move your aircraft clear of them when you’ve finished filling it up.

Before you start up, check your prop blast won’t affect other aircraft or open hangars.

Birds – and other nuisances

Be aware of the heightened risk of bird strike.

With the lack of mechanical bird activity, the feathered variety will have settled in and around aerodromes, particularly near the coast.

Also be conscious that rabbits and rabbit holes are likely to have become more numerous.

“They’re a real pain at any aerodrome,” says CAA Flight Examiner Marc Brogan. “But they’re likely to be of even more nuisance after this period of, for them, undisturbed bliss.”

Bird damage to aircraft

Damage to a Piper PA-31 from a flock of Canada geese in March 2020.

There could be a few aircraft up there – LOOK OUT!

Marc Brogan suggests that before taking off, approach other aircraft owners – maintaining a two-metre distance of course – to talk about their essential maintenance flight, and yours.

“Be aware of the desire of all operators to quickly be in the air again, if their manufacturer recommends it for engine preservation.  Communication will be key.”

Carlton Campbell says everyone will be “rusty”.

“One never-before experienced phenomenon of the lockdown is that we have all, literally, been confined to four walls.

“Our situational awareness has receded to a small domain. It hasn’t even had regular exposure to the two-dimensional perspective of daily driving.

“So apart from a few essential service providers, everyone will have the same level of currency.

“That is, we’ll all be lacking currency - especially with regard to situational awareness.

“So eyes wide open and make no assumptions!”

Don’t rely on radio calls alone for situational awareness.

That advice does not change if your aircraft is ADS-B compliant.

Make radio calls clear, concise and consistent with standard phraseology. But don’t ‘clutter’ the air with unnecessary calls, or worse, irrelevant chat.

Remember again, to ‘be kind’, be respectful, and display good airmanship.

Finally

It’s worth repeating. These flights are allowed only for the continued airworthiness requirements noted in CAN 05-011.

“They’re not for your BFR, currency, passenger rides, sightseeing, or other purposes,” says CAA Principal Flight Examiner David Harrison.

“Don’t be the one pilot who spoils things for everybody else. 

“The CAA will keep you up-to-date about what flying activity the government allows, as we progress through the COVID-19 alert levels,” he says. 

 

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