'Rusty' Pilots Cite COVID as Reason for Series of In-Flight Errors


Airline pilots are blaming a series of flying errors and mishaps on the COVID-19 pandemic that has kept them out of the sky.

A report in NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System showed that one first officer forgot to activate the anti-icing mechanism, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The mechanism makes sure that ice does not block the altitude and airspeed sensors on the outside of the plane. The flight was completed safely.

“Because I had not flown in a few months, I was rusty,” the first officer said. “I felt that my recollection was strong enough, but in reality I should have taken some time to review” procedures.

He is far from the only one. There have been at least a dozen incidents since May that pilots have blamed — at least partly so — on being out of practice, the Times reported.

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When pilots are inactive for several months, their proficiency deteriorates, according to aviation experts and airline representatives.

“The key to flying safely is frequency,” Richard McSpadden Jr., senior vice president at the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association’s Air Safety Institute, told the Times.

“You are not as sharp if you haven’t flown for a while.”

The number of daily takeoffs in the U.S. fell to roughly 75 percent below pre-pandemic levels in April and May 2020. The number of takeoffs has recently risen but is still at 43 percent below pre-pandemic levels.

Have you been on a plane since the pandemic started?

The recent increase in flights means that more pilots have been brought back to work after being away for up to four months.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires commercial jet pilots to complete at least three takeoffs and three landings, either in a plane or simulator, within the past 90 days to be allowed to fly.

However, that requirement was amended twice last year, giving pilots additional time to meet the requirement.

The extended time to meet the requirement could be only half of the problem. Delta and its pilots clashed in July over simulator access, Forbes reported.

About a dozen New York Delta pilots said they didn’t feel safe flying without meeting the requirement, but according to Tom Kramer, a Delta captain representative for the Air Line Pilots Association, International, said the company told them they didn’t have a choice.

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“If they chose not to go, they would not fly until Delta got them to a simulator. But simulator times are not being scheduled yet,” Kramer said

Delta denied the allegation that pilots were losing pay for requesting simulator access.

Planes carrying fewer passengers due to the pandemic could also lead to errors because pilots are used to flying heavier cargo, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Kenneth P. Byrnes, the chairman of the Flight Training Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus, said that commercial jets always fly with a pilot and co-pilot to reduce the odds of pilot error, so he didn’t think “there is an imminent danger.”

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith