Aviation science at CBU back in the air after being grounded by COVID
Riverside, Calif. (June 23, 2020) – When the COVID-19 pandemic closed the campus at California Baptist University, it also grounded flights in the aviation science program.
Most flight training stopped when CBU extended its spring break in March. Exceptions were granted to students who had scheduled a flight skills test with an FAA examiner to earn their pilot’s license. All flights were eventually grounded from April 8 through May 5.
“There were leadership meetings almost daily with flight operations, safety and maintenance as we continued to adapt to emerging and changing guidelines,” said Dr. John Marselus, department chair of aviation science.
Following those guidelines and collaborating with other university flight programs on how best to reopen while mitigating risk of COVID-19, a four-phase approach was developed, Marselus said.
Only students who were licensed pilots could fly solo in phase 1, which began May 6.
Phase 2 paired students and flight instructors for flight training. On June 5, the program moved to Phase 3, which allowed simulator training and two to three students per instructor. In each phase, students and instructors were assigned to specific aircraft to mitigate cross contamination, said Aaron Varela, chief of safety in the Department of Aviation Science.
Additionally, before flying, everyone completes a wellness questionnaire asking about COVID-19 symptoms and association with others who may be sick. In the aircraft, masks are not required but encouraged as long as they do not become a distraction, Varela added. After each flight, the student cleans the interior of the aircraft.
Phase 4 would allow a return to full normal operations, which hopefully will happen at the start of the fall 2020 semester, Varela said.
“When we fly, there is no difference except that the airspace is much less congested and it is quite a bit quieter on the radios,” Marselus said. “It is vital that all normal aviation safety precautions and discipline is still fully intact so once the student is starting up the aircraft to shutdown, it is all the same.”
John Mullins, assistant chief flight instructor, agreed that even with the safety precautions, the training environment has not changed much.
“Students are still eager and ready to learn, and the instructors are giving as much effort they can to ensure their students success,” Mullins said. “There are new physical challenges such as cleaning the aircraft and making sure social distancing procedures are being followed. Yet with all of that, the spirit of the instructors and students has not diminished.”
Patrick Shaneck, an aviation science sophomore, said flight training under COVID-19 conditions has been excellent.
“The restrictions implemented on flying delayed my training a little while, however, now that I am flying again, everything is expedited and I’m progressing very quickly,” Shaneck said. “CBU has done a great job at balancing safety and flight instruction.”