This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) is asking the FAA to push off until the end of the year certain air carrier training and qualification deadline extensions, as well as certain emergency procedure training requirements, for crewmembers and certain other personnel. The FAA in recent months has issued a series of exemptions, extensions, and other relief measures to ensure the National Airspace System can keep operating to the extent possible.
Those efforts included an exemption issued in March providing two additional “grace months” for ground personnel and crew to meet their training and qualification requirements that were coming due before the end of May. This, combined with the grace month already afforded, provided in some cases until the end of August for these requirements to be met.
Separately, the FAA had issued an exemption enabling crews to use alternative means to meet certain emergency procedure requirements, including donning protective breathing equipment, through the end of May.
“The conditions and circumstances that provided the justification for the original exemption, issued 40 days ago, continue to exist,” NATA said in petitioning the FAA.
In granting the original exemption to the training and qualification deadline, the FAA said the move was justified given the unprecedented circumstances associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. “Certain training environments, such as crowded classrooms, may pose an unnecessary risk of exposure to crewmembers who are among the population that CDC has identified as high risk,” the agency said. “This co-location of critical personnel increases the likelihood that significant portions of the certificate holder’s qualified personnel could be exposed to Covid-19…It is reasonable to assume that the qualifications of crewmembers may lapse unnecessarily because certificate holders and their personnel do not want to assume this health risk.”
NATA stressed that similar relief should be extended to personnel whose training and currency requirements are coming due between June 1 and September 30. The extension would give these operators three additional months to ensure they can comply with the training and qualification requirements, the association said. “Additionally, an extension is necessary to manage the backlog of personnel who still require training, and the need for limited access training facilities, such as simulators, to maintain currency.”
The association added that its members are following CDC-recommended protocols, but that makes keeping up with requirements difficult. “In response to concerns that the classroom training environment presents an unnecessary risk of exposure, our members have reduced training class capacity by as much as 50 percent to allow for social distancing and enhanced disinfectant protocol. However, the reduction to class sizes will result in the need for more classes, which in turn could result in a shortage of both available training capacity for monthly training liability, and PPE.”
As for the emergency procedures training, the FAA had acknowledged concerns about shortages of required equipment and the possibility of exposure to unnecessary risks that could result. “The FAA agrees that requiring crewmembers to don PBEs or oxygen masks in training, testing, or checking unnecessarily exposes them to the risk of contracting Covid-19 and is not in the public interest during this time,” the agency said. “It is reasonable to anticipate that the qualifications of crewmembers may lapse unnecessarily because certificate holders and their personnel do not want to assume this health risk. The FAA finds that granting this exemption supports the continuity of air transportation, which is essential in this national emergency.”