The steepest downturn in modern aviation history means plenty of airline pilots are spending weeks or months of the coronavirus pandemic idling at home.
When they do return to the cockpit, a few are admitting that they’re out of practice, and knocking off the rust is proving harder than anticipated.
“This was my first flight in nearly three months,” one pilot wrote in a June report explaining why he or she neglected to turn on the critical anti-icing system. “I placed too much confidence in assuming that it would all come back to me as ‘second nature.'”
The report on that flight, which landed without incident, is one of more than two dozen documenting the challenges of returning from pandemic-related leave filed in a federal system for tracking aviation mistakes.
A CNN analysis of the publicly available reports, which were highlighted in a recent report by the Los Angeles Times, found returning pilots acknowledging their skills were not as sharp as they expected.
The idea behind the NASA-run Aviation Safety Reporting System is that coming clean about errors allows for analysis and improvements that make aviation safer. The reports are stripped of identifying information — such as which airline and which airports were involved — and made public in a government database.
“Everyone knows that flying skills and company policies/procedures are highly diminishable,” the pilot wrote in the anti-icing report. “In order to prepare for a flight following a period of inactivity I should have dedicated more time to review my duties.”
Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration do have systems in place to require pilots keep in practice. The pilot nearing three months without a flight was fast approaching a federal rule that requires additional training for pilots who aren’t active enough over a 90-day period.
The risk, aviation safety expert Peter Goelz says, is that aviation disasters are often at the end of a chain that begins with a simple mistake.
“These kinds of fairly mundane — what appear to be mundane — errors can really result in terrible events,” said Goelz, who is a CNN aviation analyst and former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates crashes. (CNN)