Captain (involuntarily ret) Eric Larsen here from FearlessFlight LIVE on Tuesday nights at 6:30pm Pacific. I have temporarily relabeled myself “CA Chopped Liver” for most of the shows while I ‘process’ my own Covid-19 triggered transition from being a captain for the world’s largest airline in commercial aviation into retirement.
During these unprecedented times I want to do my part and support you with hopefully helpful and entertaining insider insights and facts from a career pilot’s perspective. It’s also a great way to keep both you, the fearful flyer, and myself, engaged with the world of aviation, airline news and air travel related issues while the world works its way through the Coronavirus pandemic.
For the rest of this post I will abbreviate Coronavirus as Cv-19 from here on out to minimize spelling errors and remove any association with the Mexican Beer ‘Corona’ of which there is no, NONE (zero) relationship. In fact, Grupo Modelo S, A. of Mexico has announced that it will cease brewing Corona during the pandemic unless and until the Mexican government deems it an ‘agricultural necessity.’ It’s sort of a gringo necessity especially as we swing into summer in the Southwestern U.S., but that isn’t enough to warrant restarting production.
One of the questions from our followers was,
‘When can I stop worrying about Cv-19 and start worrying about flying again?’
That’s kind of a toughie. Coronavirus certainly is impacting air travel to a greater degree than anything ever has before, but I’m not sure switching from one subject to the next to worry about is the best use of the time one might budget to stressing out.
Let us talk about Cv-19 for a minute. Any and all ‘reports, forecasts, and any combination thereof’ (we used to say that in the flying business as it relates to weather forecasting) would indicate that the world WILL defeat this pandemic. The last global pandemic was a really long time ago (the Spanish Flu, NOT believed to have originated in Spain), was just over 100 years ago. We (the world) are out of practice dealing with pandemics. All indications are that medical facilities are adjusting to having to deal with it. Adjustments to societal and cultural practices will greatly reduce the spread of the disease. Lastly the best minds and resources on the globe are racing to find a vaccine. They will get it done, and when they do the world will have won a bitter battle. I won’t talk about flu gene mutation…..
Next, let’s talk about flying in the current environment in generalities. In my limited experience on the show some of the main concerns are:
- traffic conflicts with other airplanes,
- how do we get around weather,
- how do we know we can take off in the runway length available, and
- how do we know we can land and stop in the runway length available?
I will address these in a moment. Regrettably, I will not address your favorite subject in this post, #turbulence, also #bumps and #plummeting.
In fact, this just occurred to me: Coronavirus, Corona Beer, and turbulence have nothing in common nor does any one of the three have any affect on the other. Well, that is mostly correct. Right after the initial explosion of Cv-19 Corona beer sales dropped ~20% highly likely due to unfortunate word association from their fans. Not very nice of the beer drinkers to curb their thirst like that right in the middle of a global pandemic.
Anyway, back to the flying. Let me throw a couple of numbers your way.
According to Conde Nast traveller, they have estimated that half, HALF of the world’s airline fleet is/are parked. That still leaves a lot of airplanes in the air (for now). Another common number thrown around from many sources (TSA, airlines, hub airports) is that passenger volume is off a whopping 95% . I believe CNN reported that the average passenger load a week ago was 10 passengers, and this past week it was 17. The last number I want to throw out today is one from Flight Tracker. They are showing an average daily decrease of ~40% of the number of planes in the air during April as opposed to Feb.
That is still a lot of aircraft, but that also includes freight aircraft.
So, let’s talk about some of the concerns I listed above.
Many of the issues you ‘normally’ worry about have been temporarily (hopefully) alleviated during the present rollback in volume of flying activity. Remember our air traffic control (ATC) system? They were handling ‘on peak’ traffic volume just fine BBF (before bat flu). Now they have for round numbers only half of the airplanes in the air to deal with at any one time, and off peak, many fewer than that. So, clearances in a near straight line (direct) are much more common now. Also weather is still an ever present concern, but the pilots have a lot of of options as to how they want to get around it as ‘nobody’ else is close enough to limit their options in terms of course deviations.
I also brought up runway length available for takeoff and landing. Greatly reducing the aircraft weight (not many passengers) greatly reduces runway length required for either takeoff or landing and increases aircraft performance and climb ability on one or two engines. As far as enroute (cruise) traffic goes, the planes still have onboard traffic indications as well as ATC advisories. I would venture to guess flight crews are happy to actually see someone else coming the other way.
Many of the physical concerns you have with flying have been greatly reduced.
One of them that has not that makes me giggle uncontrollably is thinking about pilots landing very light weight airplanes everywhere. We are not used to doing it (more passengers= more weight) and the airplane will fly/float at a much lower airspeed than normal. That makes for some potentially hard landings. I will pour some ‘truth serum’ down my pilot buddies throats and arrive at the truth before I talk to you next.
In closing tonight many of the concerns you have/had with flying are presently greatly diminished. I also am going to throw out my opinion relative to travel right now and Cv-19. If you need or want to fly somewhere you will find the airport facilities eerily devoid of activity and the well-cleaned aircraft equally lacking in passengers. I think you will be well able to control your own exposure risk.
Thanks for reading and I will be back next week with another post. Please let me know what questions you would like me to answer.
You can also send us a message through our Helpdesk.