COVID-19 Risk Mitigation for Business Aircraft Operations
1 May 2020 – Even as some U.S. states begin loosening shelter-at-home restrictions, the threat posed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic seems likely to remain a significant risk factor for the foreseeable future. Ensuring passenger and crewmember wellbeing is critical as the industry begins to look forward to the next stages of recovery.
There is no guarantee of safety from exposure while flying during the pandemic. As with any mission, each operator must ultimately gauge the level of risk they find acceptable and prepare accordingly to minimize those hazards.
NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Committee (BAMC) has developed this resource to outline best practices operators should consider while developing their protocols for flying during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Pre-Flight Risk Analysis
Mitigating risks related to the coronavirus begins well before passengers board the plane. While planning the mission, operators should run through a series of questions to determine the risk profile of mission in terms of potential exposure to COVID-19.
This resource is designed to help operators develop an awareness of risk mitigation best practices, but it is not intended to replace expert medical and legal guidance specific to your operation. For the most up-to-date information on travel restrictions during this evolving situation, NBAA’s frequently updated Aircraft Operational Considerations With the Coronavirus online resource. For the latest government health guidance, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online COVID-19 resource.
1 – Is this trip necessary?
2 – Is the destination safe? (Have there been reported exposures at the airport? Is the destination itself a “hot spot” experiencing large numbers of COVID-19 infections?)
3 – Does this trip need to be overnight (meaning additional opportunities for exposure at lodging) or can we adequately perform mission objectives in one day?
4 – Do we have a plan in place if passengers or crewmembers show signs of exposure during the mission?
Using a flight risk assessment tool (FRAT) can help operators quantify these individual risk elements, painting a full picture of mission components that could potentially expose passengers and/or crew to the virus. These include:
1- Health situation at location
2- Number of passengers
3 – Length of mission
4 – Crew and passenger interactions with other people
5 – Need for ground transportation and overnight lodging
6 – If abroad, access to United States officials such as consuls
Additional COVID-19 values should be also added to standard FRATs to reflect personnel considerations related to the pandemic, such as mental health (distractions, stress and fatigue), potential exposure while off-duty, and risk of noncompliance with company safety policies.
Some proactive measures that can be installed into the mission planning process to limit exposure include:
1 – Pairing crews to minimise the potential of the entire flight department
2 – Limiting who in the company is able to utilise the aircraft
3 – Per CDC guidelines, enforcing a policy that face masks must be worn at all times while at the workplace (see Equipment Safety section below for possible flight deck exceptions)
4 – Taking temperatures of all passengers and crewmembers before the flight, potentially barring anyone who shows higher than 100.4 degrees F from boarding
If this measure is taken, you will also want a plan for who is taking the temperatures; property safety equipment available of them; and potentially look into having thermometers available for passengers to take their own temperature at the hangar
5 – In addition to symptoms, screening all personnel for
6 -Recent travel
7 – Exposure to friends/family who have reported symptoms
8 – Avoiding back-to-back trips on the same aircraft by alternating trips between aircraft, or scheduling multiple non-flying days between trips
9 – Restricting access to office and hangar as much as possible (e.g., encouraging work from home, limiting in-person interaction to mission essential activities, utilising phone or digital communication as much as possible)
10 – Carrying a personal protective equipment (PPE) kit on each aircraft
This should include hand sanitiser and (if available) extra N95 face masks be available onboard the aircraft
Flight service providers offer turnkey kits that cover almost all contagion situations
11 – Line service loading/unloading, unless no other option
12 – Increasing aircraft disinfection efforts both at home and at the destination (learn more at NBAA’s disinfection resource page)
13 – Utilising antimicrobial coatings on aircraft surfaces
14 – Paying for fuel and other fees exclusively over phone or through contract
15 – Having crew avoid lobby, filing paperwork from home and going directly to aircraft (when possible)
16 – Preparing catering for passengers and crewmembers to eliminate as much interaction with local food vendors as possible
17 – Utilising round-trip fuelling from home base (when practical)
Clear communication between crewmembers and passengers is critical to minimising risks of coronavirus exposure. Well before boarding, passengers should be aware of changes from their typical flight experience. Some of these may include:
1 – Use of face masks, gloves, and other PPE
2 – Limitations or restrictions of onboard food and beverage consumption
3 – Limitations on total numbers of passengers
4 – Requirements that passengers remain seated for the entire flight, barring a physical necessity to use the restroom
5 – Maintaining a safe distance between passengers and crew; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend six feet, but this may not always be possible on board the aircraft
6 -1 – Only using headsets that have been disinfected by crewmembers
It may also be deemed prudent – after consulting with medical experts, and in accordance with federal, state and local regulations – to implement more invasive pre-flight procedures for any individuals boarding the aircraft. These can include:
1 – Checking temperatures prior to boarding
2 – Mandatory electronics and baggage disinfection
3 – Medical screening (internal or third-party)
It may be useful to determine the location of your outflow valves in your aircraft and where the crew and passengers are in relationship to them.
Safety at Destination
Operators should have a plan in place to safely and quickly make arrangements if a passenger shows signs of sickness during the trip, or if they deviate from the pre-approved mission plan. All emergency plans should reflect the latest CDC guidance, as well as take into consideration mission-specific factors such as the number of COVID-19 cases at local hospitals, the quality of local health services, passengers’ unique health profiles (such as diabetes or cancer) and each company’s standard protocol for emergency health situations.
Operators may wish to consider screening and disinfecting baggage before it’s loaded onto the aircraft. Some additional proactive measures to limit the risk level of items entering the aircraft include:
1 – Insisting that all baggage except for electronic devices remain in the baggage compartment for the entire flight
2 – Placing baggage into plastic bags prior to be loaded onto the aircraft
3 – Disinfecting electronics devices prior to boarding
4 – Mandating use of hand sanitiser after crewmembers handle any baggage
In addition to normal pre- and post-flight cleaning procedures, FAA and CDC recommend that air carriers and crewmembers take precautions to avoid exposure to COVID-19. CDC has also provided recommendations for aircraft operators to clean and disinfect aircraft. NBAA and committee volunteers have summarized this information in an easy-to-use resource that will help you make aircraft cleaning decisions.
Should crews wear face masks in the cockpit? Though they are in close proximity to one another – a situation in which PPE is typically advised – the use of facemasks on the flight deck can bring about unique issues such as fogging glasses, difficulty in talking to ATC, and the need to remove the PPE and replace it with an oxygen mask, potentially costing valuable time.
Operators are encouraged to run through potential scenarios in which a mask could encumber crewmembers’ ability to perform essential duties, and incorporate their findings into a standard company policy.
Other equipment safety measures include:
1 – Giving each pilot their own headset (not to be shared with any other pilot)
2 – After cabin door is closed, having pilots use hand sanitizer on their respective seats
3 – Providing rubber gloves to both passengers (for pressing the crew button) and crewmembers
4 – Enforcing a policy that if pilots need to leave the cockpit for any reason, gloves and mask must be worn
5 – Minimising switching seats unless a full cockpit wipedown/cleaning can be done
Safety at Destination
Protocol for crewmember activities at the destination should be focused on limiting the potential exposure to vectors of transmission. Measures to do so include:
1 – Deplaning before passengers
2 – Eating prepared food as much as possible (limiting take-out and avoiding dining in food establishments)
3 – Not leaving the hotel beyond what is required for the mission
4 – Avoiding public transportation
5 – Refraining from contact with passengers until the return flight
6 – Selecting airports with robust cleaning and disinfecting procedures
7 – Having flight crews carry mobile disinfecting kits to use in rental cars and hotel rooms
All crewmembers must know how to contact public health authorities in any location where they are staying overnight. Contact information for U.S. state and local health departments for COVID-19 is available at their website.
Protocol if Symptoms Appear During Mission
It is imperative that any operations during the pandemic (and once it has subsided) be supported by a robust emergency plan – made aware to all personnel, both on the ground in the aircraft – that lays out a clear course of action if a passenger or crewmember displays COVID-19 symptoms during a mission.
Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms or combinations of symptoms may have COVID-19:
1 – Cough
2 – Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
3 – Fever
4 – Chills
5 – Repeated shaking with chills
6 – Muscle pain
7 – Headache
8 – Sore throat
9 – New loss of taste or smell
10 – Diarrhea
If these symptoms are detected during the trip, the PIC should immediately report back to the flight department. All individuals that have been exposed to the aircraft should be quarantined until a CDC official (or similarly authoritative medical professional) is able to provide guidance.
If a passenger or crewmember displays symptoms on board the aircraft, alert ATC immediately. ATC will notify the FAA’s Domestic Events Network (DEN) of the report, using the code “…requests a CDC consult.” The DEN will send the report to the CDC, who will in turn notify the CDC Quarantine Station with jurisdiction for the arrival airport.
While in the air, it’s important to act quickly and carefully to mitigate the risk of the virus spreading to others aboard the aircraft. The following steps should be taken immediately upon detection of the symptoms:
1 – Place an N95 on the afflicted individual
2 – Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds immediately after tending to the individual
3 – Equip any crewmember (if not already wearing a mask) in close proximity to the individual with an N95 mask.
4 – Have all individuals on the flight fill out a public health passenger locator form to ensure contact tracing is able to be performed if it is confirmed that the individual has COVID-19
5 – Fill out a Person Under Investigation (PUI) form to help the CDC collect key information on COVID-19 patients
6 – Upon landing, coordinate transportation and medical care with local health officials
The risks presented by COVID-19 do not go away after the mission is complete. Operators should insist that both passengers and crewmembers report if they become ill within 14 days of the flight. Designating an HR representative (or other qualified individual) as the point of contact for symptom reporting can help ensure that passenger/crewmember confidentiality is maintained and that the appropriate parties are contacted.
If such a situation does occur, operators should:
1 – Alert all individuals who shared a flight with that individual or interacted with them at the workplace
2 – Follow CDC guidelines for contact tracing
3 – Consult medical experts on whether it is safe to continue flight operations
There are many resources available to help operators develop their plan for flying during the COVID-19 outbreak. NBAA encourages operators to pay attention to federal and local guidance, as well as monitor health data at mission destinations.
NBAA Covid-19 Resources
Explore NBAA’s library of resources related to the novel coronavirus.
ICAO Global COVID-19 Airport Status
This app displays COVID-related information as available through the NOTAM service.
U.S. Government COVID-19 Homepage
Official guidance from the White House, CDC and FEMA.
Reporting COVID-19 Cases to the CDC
CDC has developed a form that provides a standardized approach to reporting COVID-19 cases.
FAA General Guidance
Information related to aviation activities during the outbreak.
FAA COVID-19 Update Newsletter
Up-to-date information on changes that may affect your operation.
FAA Facilities Affected by COVID-19
An interactive map displaying the latest information on airport impacts.
EASA COVID-19 Guidance
The latest information related to the coronavirus from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency.
European Cockpit Association COVID-19 Safety Pamphlet
An illustrated guide to COVID-19 best practices.
Pilot Oxygen Mask Requirements
Information on FAA regulatory changes related to oxygen mask usage.