by Meredith Holladay

Much of the joy and beauty of spring was overshadowed this year by a specter which the world now knows as COVID-19. Seemingly overnight, out of nowhere, life as we knew it came to a grinding halt. State and local governments responded to the news of the pandemic by issuing “stay at home orders” and restricting business activity to those deemed “essential.” Our flight school, like many other small businesses, was not considered essential according to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order dated April 3, 2020, so we made the difficult choice to suspend flight training until May 1, when the original order expired. We had to adapt quickly to a constantly changing environment. Fortunately, our training as pilots has helped us greatly in this regard as we’ve worked to assess and mitigate a host of actual and perceived risks.

Despite the news media’s daily barrage of death, doom and hopelessness, we did not allow our family business to implode. The stress took its toll on our family just like everyone else, but we pulled ourselves together and found a way to keep going. We paid our instructors through April even though they were not flying, even though we have yet to receive one dime of government assistance. Our mechanic worked daily to keep our fleet in top shape for customers who came out to fly solo or with family members. We hosted our free weekly ground school classes online. When I was not busy home schooling our daughter, I rebuilt this website, for which our instructors have produced some additional content.

We had to adapt quickly to a constantly changing environment. Fortunately, our training as pilots has helped us greatly in this regard as we’ve worked to assess and mitigate a host of actual and perceived risks.

We’ve worked too hard to let this “invisible enemy” beat us. We are proud Americans and knew we had to “fly the airplane” to survive and move forward.

By the third week in April, it became clear that Gov. DeSantis was not going to extend the order, as had been done in other states. So we moved forward with plans to reopen our flight school on May 1. This plan was confirmed on April 29, when Gov. DeSantis released his plan for reopening businesses in Florida. The plan points to revised Federal guidelines (updated April 17) on the essential workforce, which now includes flight instructors. Following the moving target of where we stand in the eyes of the government has been disheartening and exhausting.

What will flight training be like in this strange new world? We have spent the last several weeks trying to answer that question. Gov. DeSantis has made it clear in numerous public statements that there is no one-size-fits all solution for every business in our state. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not provided any specific guidance to flight schools. And so much of the “data” that is reported by the media is questionable at best. So we are on our own to develop a plan of action that makes sense for our staff and customers.

Here is our plan of action moving forward.

  1. Reinforce the importance of basic personal hygiene. Practicing good personal hygiene is not a new concept, and should be common sense for most people. But this new “social distancing” mantra presents a unique challenge in the flight training environment, where instructor and student must work together as a team in the confined space of a small airplane. It is our belief that two or more people can safely coexist in the cockpit as long as each person treats the others as they would want to be treated. If you feel a sneeze coming on (let’s face it, sneezes happen even to healthy people), cover your face with your shirt or a tissue and wipe your hands clean. These are hopefully all the same things your mother told you when you were in kindergarten. Bring tissues and wipes with you in the airplane. Be courteous to your fellow pilots. Be prepared to deal with in-flight germs just like you are prepared to deal with any other in-flight challenge.
  2. Delegate facility cleaning. As our business has grown, keeping the office clean has become more of a challenge, so we’ve hired a professional to clean and disinfect the office once a week. We’ve purchased an adequate supply of Lysol spray disinfectant, and have ordered a gallon bottle of liquid hand sanitizer. Chlorine based disinfecting wipes and isopropyl alcohol continue to be in short supply, but we will do our best to keep the office stocked with appropriate cleaning supplies, toilet paper and paper towels.
  3. Remind customers to take personal responsibility for their own health and be respectful of others. Every individual needs to decide how to protect themselves from COVID-19 or any other communicable disease, including the common cold or flu. One of the best ways to avoid germ exposure during a flight lesson is to use your own headset, view limiting device, and checklist. If you need to borrow any of these items, we encourage you to bring your own cleaning supplies. Wipe the sink dry after you wash your hands. Make sure your used paper towel ends up in the trash can, and not on the floor. If you feel wearing a face mask and/or gloves is the right choice for you, then by all means do so. We are not requiring our staff or customers to wear masks and/or gloves.
  4. Educate customers on the proper way to disinfect the cockpit of an airplane. We’ve produced a short video on the subject. The best and safest way to disinfect GPS touch screens and avionics is to use a tissue moistened with isopropyl alcohol. Never spray anything directly onto any interior component of an aircraft, especially avionics equipment, as this could cause very expensive damage. Garmin has also posted a blog post on this subject.

What does the future hold for general aviation? Nobody has a clear view into that crystal ball, but those of us who lived through the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 know that while permanent changes occurred throughout all aspects of aviation, we got back in the air relatively quickly and the industry not only recovered, but thrived. It is our firm belief that the same will happen again here. It’s just going to take some time.

Wishing you and your family all the best, now and always.

Dana and Meredith Holladay

  • Do not come to our facility if you are sick or think you might be getting sick.

  • Do not touch anyone or anything unless it’s necessary.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly, before and after your lesson.

  • Sanitize your airplane and your equipment. This includes headsets, checklists, and anything in the cockpit of an aircraft you might touch during a flight.

  • Wear a mask and/or gloves if you feel it’s the right thing for you. We are not mandating that anyone, including staff members, wear any sort of personal protection equipment.