‘Domino Effect’

(This month, we're outsourcing the Editor's Log to NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). The following appeared in the July 2020 issue of the monthly ASRS Callback newsletter, which is available via email for free by signing up at the organization's web site: asks.arc.nasa.gov )


COVID-19 continues to impact the aviation world with a multitude of threats and challenges. Many have not been previously observed in aviation. While maintaining proficiency is a constant challenge, the lack thereof is a foe that aircrews have battled since the birth of the airplane and is currently revealing itself as a novel concern. In the COVID-19 reports that ASRS is currently receiving, the subtle erosion of cognizance and execution that comes with reduced flight time is characterized as a far-reaching domino effect of the disease.

“The effects are predictable, beginning with the lack of recent flying experience and newly instituted procedures and flows dictated by the virus. Similar effects from different stimuli have been observed on a much smaller scale. Extended vacations, medical issues, layoffs, or other issues that severely reduce the frequency and regular activities of flying have, in the past, resulted in a temporary decrease in proficiency. Likewise, a new piece of equipment or change in operations usually results in new procedures and changes to cockpit flows.

“The extreme cutback in flying time caused by COVID-19 has prompted crewmembers, companies, and the FAA to address the corresponding decrease in proficiency with all its ramifications as well as the complex relationship between pilot proficiency and legal currency. This month, CALLBACK focuses on reports that highlight these concerns, which largely have been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The length of time that we will suffer reduced flying is unclear. What is clear is that in the COVID-19 era, an increased awareness and a heightened commitment to aviation discipline are indispensable to the continued safety of flight.”

The July 2020 ASRS newsletter also included the following comment from an air carrier captain after what was labeled a “poorly planned, unstable approach:”

“I suggest that all crews redouble efforts and vigilance in these trying times, as we are all working in unfamiliar situations now with the pressures put on us by the pandemic…. Looking out for ourselves and the other [crews] even more than we did before will be the new normal for some time.”

Let’s all be careful out there.

— Jeb Burnside


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