Published on Monday, June 15, 2020

FAA: near-empty jets causing erratic flying


The Covid-19 pandemic has created a unique set of safety issues for airlines beyond the usual social distancing and staying healthy in-flight.

The Commercial Aviation Safety Team, which is made up of Federal Aviation Administration officials, unions, and airline representatives, issued more than 50 warnings relating to the unique conditions of flying half-empty aircraft.

With just a handful of passengers onboard, one jet 'climbed like a rocket' which led to pilots going beyond the assigned altitude, according to Bloomberg.

Other weight and balance issues have resulted in jetliners scrapinng their tails on takeoff, or veered off course prompting mid-air collision alerts.

The spate of incidents may also be partly due to pilots missing scheduled training sessions due to the pandemic.

In addition, when more grounded aircraft come out of months-long hibernation, there is the possible risk of fuel contamination.

"These dynamic changes are creating stress points on our systems and processes," the Commercial Aviation Safety Team said.

It also points to possible flight crew anxiety, having to fly during a pandemic and also fearing for their jobs as airlines look to downsize after the summer.

"There is certainly a concern that all of these things could be a distraction to crews and could result in an undesirable situation," Hassan Shahidi, president of the nonprofit Flight Safety Foundation told Bloomberg.

Although there are significant concerns, there have been no life-threatening incidents so far.  

"We are closely monitoring the data we receive from voluntary reporting systems and have increased the number of information-sharing meetings we're holding with operators," the FAA said in a statement.

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