Though its admiring to see resumption of Air Operations globally, Aviation sector has become the first among Industries to restore operations in post COVID-19 situations.
Behind the curtain, there has been a big laundry list of exemptions and extensions of various process in Airworthiness Standards, Air-operations regulations and Air Safety compliances to resume flying operations at the earliest possible with desired safety assurances.
To ensure these, ICAO has laid down various guidelines advising Aviation Regulator of Contracting States to issue detailed instructions for granting Extension/Exemptions & Monitoring etc.
Review of situation on Ground reveals that despite loss of jobs, no flying operations etc most of the qualified man power is opting for safer place locked inside homes. This has created severe man power crunch across globe, posing serious problems in resuming flying operations. Considering these limitations spread across world ICAO have relaxed many critical mandates which were otherwise non negotiable in pre COVID-19 situation.
These exemptions and extensions became compulsive because of not only shortage of qualified man power e.g Pilots, Cabin Crew, Ground Crew (Ticketing, Ground handling and Security etc), but also shortage of spares & stores, Calibration facilities, Major repair facilities, Training facilities, Medical Assessment facilities etc.
A brief list of few exemptions/extensions include :
a. Extension on FDTL (Flight Duty Time Limitation) for Pliots & Cabin Crew
b. Extension of validity of licenses, Renewal, Instrument Ratings, privileges of pilots Licenses, Skill Test, Recurrent training, Flight Check requirements of Pilots, Load & Trim Staff, Flight Despatchers, Cabin crew, ground instructors etc.
c. Extension on Pilot Proficiency Checks, Mandatory Aviation Medical assessment, requirement of minimum number of Takeoff & landing currency in past 3 months.
d. Extension on validity of recurrent Dangerous goods Regulation training.
e. Extension on Aviation Security Refresher training by Civil Aviation Security Department.
f. Extension of Recurrent /Refresher Training / Flight Simulation Training Devices (FSTD Approval)
g. Extension on validity of Medical Fitness Assessment, English Language Proficiency (ELP), Recency & Competency checks for Licensed Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs).
Though a very pragmatic approach taken by ICAO, what apparently seems is that the relaxation in the system should have been adopted following more prudent process seeking independent opinion of professionals belonging to out side ICAO Team of Experts i.e Aviation Medical Specialists, Psychologists etc.
On one end the exemptions & extensions give way for resumption of flying operations but on the other end it makes flying more challenging and raising fatigue levels of Ground crew and Flying Crew too due to persistent stress levels for uncertainty looming large over their head for various counts.
ICAO being a responsible Organisation has been conducting numerous very informative Webinars on various relevant subject matters with special reference to COVID-19.
During one such Webinar on “Extending Flight and Duty Limits for COVID-19 “Special Ops” and ” Licensing in the times of COVID-19″ when panelists were posed a Question as to ” Wouldnt it be better if inputs from Aviation Medical Specialists & Psychologists too were sought on such critical issue ?”. The Panel though acknowledged importance of reference made but didnt confirm any such effort was made.
During one more similar Webinar on “Managing Fatigue in COVID-19 “Normal Operations” conducted by IATA joined by ICAO Representative as Penalist; in reply to a Question “Dont long list of exemptions/extensions under Airworthiness, Air operations, Air safety regulations pertaining to Pilots License, Training of Pilots/ATCOs, Medical Examination, Aviation Security recurrent training etc add risk of higher fatigue than preventing it ? “. Panelists did affirm point raised of concern and expected that the Contracting states would undertake due diligence in totality before approving extensions and exemptions.
In addition to regular ICAO oversight Inspections of Contracting States Aviation Operations, ICAO must also promulgate Calendar for surveillance to ensure that the ICAO Guidelines are adapted by the Contracting States along a well documented & compelling Risk Assessment & Mitigation Plan, especially in the light of recent statement of Civil Aviation Minister of Pakistan reveals 260 out of 860 Pakistan Pilots are flying with fake license being hazard in the open Air Space risking lives of millions of passengers across globe.