Students in the aviation program at Utah State University were stuck in a “holding pattern” when the university response to COVID-19 included temporarily suspending training flights and instruction until appropriate safety measures could be developed and implemented.
In order to get students back up in the air and progressing with their required flight hours, the program administrators and instructors worked with USU Risk Management and the President’s Office to set up a system that would ensure social distancing, minimize contact, and still allow operations to proceed.
“With the approval of the college we are using touchless thermometers, verifying health and sanitizing the aircraft after every flight,” said Aaron Dyches, director of airport operations and chief flight instructor. “These measures should allow our 350 students to pick up where they left off last semester due to a month-long stand down and also allow students to enroll in new courses with a few limitations.”
Dyches added that the Federal Aviation Administration’s requirements for flight hours and training imply regular and consistent training. To avoid falling out of practice or forgetting critical skills, students must maintain their instruction to be eligible for FAA testing.
For those who returned to the airfield to resume their education, a pair of factory-new aircraft were waiting. The two new planes arrived at USU’s hangars via semi-truck May 11 and reassembled.
“We anticipate that these airframes will help carry the load we currently have on the fleet: approximately 20,000 flight hours in the past year and 40,700 landings,” Dyches said.
This brings the total number of aircraft that USU operates for flight training to 33. Between the program’s two locations, Logan and Price, the university makes use of nine single engine fixed pitch aircraft, 12 single engine constant speed aircraft, one spin trainer, three twin engine aircraft, one turbine engine airplane trainer, five basic training helicopters, and two instrument training helicopters.
All USU training aircraft are equipped with ADS-B: a satellite navigation technology that facilitates safety and provides instructors the ability to see where the planes are in real-time. Additionally, the new aircraft have the latest in electronic controls and displays to assist students in their training.