What Will Be The New Normal?


Somewhere in some lab or clinic, in the capable and creative hands of a doctor, a biologist, a geneticist or a team of same strung together by Zoom, rests the returned vitality of the aviation industry. I’m stopping short of saying fate, because I’ve been to enough rodeos by now to realize aviation as an industry has survived everything thrown at it from wars, to recessions, to terrorists and now a global pandemic. As it has before, so will it again survive.

Survival is the wrong question. The question is when will normalcy resume? But even that’s oblique. The better question is what will the new normal look like? I have no crystal ball nor any particular expertise on this, but I can pose the question and I think we can all answer it, at least conditionally.

When will you be ready to get on an airliner? I’m not now. Not next week, either. In May sometime? Maybe. I think what I want to see for the initial new normal is health screening, widespread use of and availability of masks and widely available hand sanitizing, both washing and the alcohol variety. The mask consideration awaits catch-up manufacturing on protective equipment for medical professionals. I’m not seeking my own PPE until the frontline workers have theirs. And ultimately, a vaccine may be the only thing capable of turning around the airline business.

This is said to be a year to 18 months away. I’m not a pessimist, but an optimist with experience and I’m going to bet on the sooner rather than the later. With a $120 trillion world economy in the balance, an unprecedented amount of research is being focused on a COVID-19 vaccine. I’m hoping there will be intermediate vaccines on the way to one tailored specifically for  SARSCoV-2.

Several doctors on the front lines of treating the disease have told me that cooperation on immediate therapies is intense from hospital to hospital and country to country. If these yield short-term results, will all of us become more comfortable with traveling when the restrictions are lifted? I will be. But not yet.

As for GA, flight instruction isn’t on hold, but it’s dented. Almost overnight, the white-hot pilot hiring market has paused as furloughs have started. Today’s video shows why. A staggering percentage of the world airline fleet has been parked in short-term storage. Shelter-in-place orders have had an ambiguous impact on personal flying. People are still doing it, but our surveys suggest activity is depressed. My home field is quieter, but not moribund.

Hanging in the balance is AirVenture, now 102 days distant. If you’re asked about going—and we did last week—what’s your answer? Mine is a conditional no for the moment. I’ve been studying the virus propagation curves just as everyone else has and it’s encouraging to see that Wisconsin’s trails off into the noise level in early May. Does that mean we can all waltz into the vendor hangars just as we did last summer? If someone can explain to me that the SARSCoV-2 will likely be gone by then, I’ll listen. But I’m skeptical for now.

I don’t want to sport around Oshkosh with a mask and gloves, but if that’s what it takes, plus screening by temperature taking on admission, then that’s what it takes. That might be the new normal for at least this year. I haven’t seen my good friends in skydiving for over a month. When next we meet, the urge for a round of hugs will be irresistible, but ill advised. That’s a kind of normal I’ll never get used to.

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  1. Just a well thought out and well written piece, Paul. Thank you. GA flying and related activities will certainly be back – as always, the exact shape of the future remains to be seen. Until then, stay well!

  2. I think that sadly it is already too late for Oshkosh. Events of that size are only going to be safe when there is a negligible risk of transmission. Other than the loony tunes fringe, there is no one saying that is likely by July

    As for GA in general it is critical that we all operate in a responsible manner. This is not the time for “hey watch this “ you tube videos or any grand standing

  3. Better not be a “new” normal. The cure has definitely been worse than the illness.

    There is a former NY Times reporter, Alex Berenson, has penned an article that questions the dire virus models. In Columbus, Ohio there were people protesting the statewide lockdown. The Kansas state legislature has voted to override that governor’s executive order shutting down churches in that state. In both LA and New York the respective mayors are complaining about people not following the stay at home order. In some local stores I have been in I noticed maybe 30-40% of customers wearing masks in the stores, even though Governor DeWine in Ohio has recommended it.

    The CDC has instructed doctors to list persons who died from other illnesses to list them as Coronavirus fatalities if that person was tested as infected even if the virus has not been determined as the cause of that death. Heck of a way for authorities to maintain any credibility on this.

    The longer these lockdowns drag on, the harder it will be for authorities to get people to go along. I will use a mask supplied by my company when engaged in my duties as captain until entering the cockpit when it will be removed as per company policy. I refuse to wear one otherwise as I think it will have no benefit. Even Senator Cruz from Texas has complained about some of the overzealous enforcement that has been reported. Constitutional issues have been raised and I am sure will result in more lawsuits.

    We have done to ourselves what the 9/11 terrorists could only dream of. It is time now to reopen the economy and if certain regions really need more time then limit to those regions some measures. But those regions measures have to be done in accordance to the constitution, otherwise there will be nothing left to return to normal.

    • Captain Matt, you might want to change the channel every once in a while to get the true story. Governor Kelly of Kansas did not issue an executive order “shutting down churches in that state”. She did issue an executive order restricting church gatherings to 10 people or less while we’re fighting the virus, an entirely reasonable preventative action in view of our limited curative resources. It’s analogous to prohibiting smoking during refueling in order to protect the public even for those who believe in the right to smoke while refueling. Religious gatherings around the world bear much responsibility for the spread of this virus. Kansas is a microcosm of the world in that it does have a lunatic fringe which disregards science. A legislative panel of that fringe was able today to put a pause on the governor’s action. And by the way, Kansas is not under lockdown. The governor has has asked that we stay home but has emphasized that we are not under house arrest. Whether or not the cure is worse than the illness is in the eye of the ill beholder, not in the eyes of those fortunate enough to have remained healthy.

      • What channel reported a shut down? What channel reported another channel reporting a shut down?

        Enquiring minds want to know.

        The media circus in this country is pathetic. Unfortunately, it’s a result of small minds on top and throughout.

    • Looks like the church issue in Kansas will be decided in court to be heard on Saturday. There is also a report of homeowners that have second homes in the Outer Banks are suing Dare county N.C. for not allowing out of state owners access to their homes. Suit is based on violation of the 10th and 14th amendments. Even New York governor Cuomo criticized an attempt by Rhode Island governor’s order to pull over all cars with New York plates and threatened legal action if Rhode Island actually followed through with that order. As I said before the longer the economy is restricted and stay at home orders remain the harder it will be to enforce and to just get people to go along.

      I have been asked to help out getting another drop zone’s pilots familiarized to flying a Kodak this year. Knowing how much most skydivers think of government regulation I’m surprised somewhere some drop zone has not tried to put loads out in defiance of any state order.

  4. I don’t think this virus is reading the constitution….
    Personally I don’t listen to the political pundits, I listen to the scientists.
    They seem to be pretty united on what the threat is and what measures are needed to avoid a huge wave of unnecessary deaths.

    • I used to listen to the scientists, but then I found out how they went from being used to make political points to making the points through data manipulation to turning the Academy into a conspiratorial guild.

      I now listen to everyone through a healthy filter. It’s more important than a cloth mask, IMO.

      • Eric,

        Having gone through the Academy myself, I think there is truth in what you say. Just ask any graduate student whose research results have contradicted the desires of his/her faculty advisor. I do take issue with your claim of a “conspiratorial guild” though. In my experience the worst practitioners of this misconduct are too willful and self absorbed to mount any kind of organized conspiracy – political or otherwise. Your recommendation of “a healthy filter” should be taken by everyone. So, in the service of complete honesty, I have to say at least half of the scientists practicing today are competent and ethical despite occasional pressure to be otherwise. And that number is much higher among those who choose a career in public service.

        • Oh sure, conspiratorial guild isn’t right. I am no writer. It does seem a guild though. One with secret handshakes and shared beliefs.

          My friend was run out of a graduate program because he mistakenly thought he could choose a dissertation subject in line with his advisor’s school of thought. It was rejected, and he was tossed out with that being the only reason. They were trying to get rid of his advisor, and then used his “failure” as evidence his advisor wasn’t up to par.

  5. All the people that thinks that drastic changes will take place in the economy and the world as we know it are a bit stuck in their own minds. Things will get to normal very quickly what the pin heads think not withstanding. We all have our routines and we automatically get back into them providing an outside force is not stopping you. Very similar to Newton’s second law of motion. The scare mongers will tell it will take years, no it will not. It will take about as long as what you want to make itself available. For example Luigi Pizza will have his clients line up the first day they notice the sign on the door saying Open. Having all these Doctors of control telling who opens and when is the only reason the economy will not get back to normal right away.
    I want my 100 dollar Catfish sandwich and the first day they open up the restaurant at Gulfport I am headed there and right back to normal.

    • Massachusetts’ governer just ordered all grocery stores to limit the count of persons in the building – including employees – to not exceed 40% of the rated occupancy limit of their building.

      That order likely will be extended to ALL retail establishments, including restaurants, when things “improve” enough to re-open them.

      I don’t know of any restaurants that can stay in business under those conditions. And supermarkets and big-box retailers?

      Expect long lines EVERYWHERE where you have no choice but to shop. And no lines at all at thousands of permanently closed restaurants and shops.

      Welkome to the Soviet Union v2.0.

      We cannot allow the cure to be worse than the disease.

  6. Stating the obvious, aviation is connected to many other industries. People fly for business, visiting family and vacation. If the lock down continues beyond 30-APR, I wonder how many hotels will still be in business. Will people have any place to reside if they do travel? When I was in FL 2 weeks ago for business, the hotel closed the top floors and laid off 98% of their staff. They had no restaurant or maid service. There were maybe 15 rooms occupied.

    Using the current IHME forecast model, the current projected deaths would be 0.0256% of the US population. Every death is terrible but that is a pretty small number. The unemployment rate is 10% and likely to climb much high when people can get through the system logjam. For travel related businesses, what will the unemployment rate be? 40% – 50% or higher? In aviation we measure the risk / reward all the time. We love to fly but we know that there is risk. There is risk to being exposed to the virus and risk to how an individual responds. All of these are unknowns. By the way, what the scientists say is that there is only one way to stop the virus. That is herd immunity either by exposure or an immunization.

    • Part of the problem with computing the death rate is not all Covid-19 deaths are reported as such. In NYC, only those people diagnosed with Covid-19 prior to dying (which are primarily hospital patients) are counted as a Covid-19 death. If someone dies at home with all the symptoms of Covid-19 but hasn’t been tested, they are listed as “probable” but not listed in the official tally. (UPDATE: NYC has just said they’ll add those numbers, but not given details on how or when).

      Currently, the number of people dying at home is 5-10 times higher than normal, which could add 10-20% more to the numbers of reported Covid-19 deaths.

  7. Personally, if Oshkosh goes on but it’s a requirement to wear a mask and/or get your temperature checked before being allowed in, then I definitely won’t be going. I’d actually prefer they just cancel it now, instead of holding out hope to still go forward with it. I think enough people are not going to go regardless of what happens between now and then that it won’t be worth the effort to put on a lackluster, lightly-attended show. Which is a real shame, because I was particularly looking forward to going this year 🙁

  8. I think that the “dooms day” prophets are neglecting/ignoring American ingenuity. We as a society possess too much creativity, focus and industrial willpower to let this linger on. It appears that all of the catastrophic forecasts are falling short, with the death rate and new case rate not anywhere near initial projections. This is being overplayed by segments of the media and political opposition to achieve a desired political objective. As a prior political figure stated: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste”.

  9. Yes but for two points: This virus is new and not acting like other corona viruses in a number of ways. Scientists are learning about it all the time. For example, whether it is killed or loses potency in sunshine.
    Initial research from hot countries like Singapore and Australia said no — but new research says maybe. And in South Africa, they cleared the decks for an Italy style explosion and nothing has happened — yet. They are in a sunny autumn there.
    The other is the credibility of scientists in such outbreaks. I was working in a rural area of the UK when the Mad Cow outbreak occurred. Again it was new, scientists were only just beginning to realize the way rouge proteins could make people sick. The loudest and most shrill scientists predicted 100,000 dead by 2005 whether beef bans were put in place or not. At the moment there are around 170 suspected dead from the human form of the protein, possibly transmitted by eating infected beef. But there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of farmers, butchers, abattoirs and others who lost they livihoods. Some are still in poverty as a result. Have the scientists said sorry? No, they have retired from their safe salaried government jobs into a comfortable old age, without a word of regret. Now the loudest and most shrill shouting for masks and no running on the streets remind me of them. Especially as the virus is 129nm and in order to allow humans to breath, the mesh of a mask has to be at least 300nm, and even then you really have to suck.
    So my guess is after the worst is over, it will once again be rude not to shake hands and kiss cheeks where I live.

    • Bob I’m not sure that whether or not folks would take the medication is based upon political leanings. What is true is that predominantly one political party is actively promoting this medication. That doesn’t mean the population will automatically take the medication based on political affiliation or advice. I have taken every anti malarial prophylactic known to man including chloroquine and even straight quinine (age giveaway), but always under physician guidance and prescription. Whether or not I would take the above medication for Cov 19 would depend upon many circumstances, not the least of which would be the best educated opinion of my primary doc who knows my health history including blood profile based on regular blood draws, followed by a second opinion. Politics would have 0% influence on me in this case, just as politics does not determine which abnormal checklists we run once we have diagnosed malfunctions while airborne.

  10. “This is said to be a year to 18 months away. I’m not a pessimist, but an optimist with experience and I’m going to bet on the sooner rather than the later.”

    I share your overall optimism, but there are some parts of vaccine research that can’t be hurried. A large part of vaccine research is biological, and you can’t hurry Mother Nature. It’s like growing corn – no matter how many farmers you throw at the problem, it still takes months for corn to grow from seed to plate.

    Some parts can certainly be sped up – the data analysis and paperwork, for example. But growing the samples, testing on live subjects, checking for side effects, finding out how much (or how little) of the vaccine is needed to provide results, testing the immune response, etc. are processes that simply can’t be sped up.

    PS – let’s not forget the anti-vaxxers that will protest that the sped-up process means the vaccine is unsafe/makes you sick(er)/causes autism in adults, etc. As we’ve learned from recent measles outbreaks, all it takes is a couple of fruitcakes not getting the vaccine to ruin it for everyone else.

    • Calling them fruitcakes isn’t winning them over. Not all their evidence is bad. If we want cooperation, acknowledging all the facts and misdeeds is a better start. There are issues with vaccines, but we are better off if we can all know the facts, have transparency, and push for consensus.

      The reason for much of the movement’s strength is that it’s made up of Mom’s who were not listened to. Scientists have made lots of mistakes. Acting like a Mom should go along because she is just a mom isn’t a good plan.

  11. If you want to really understand what the potential of a viral epidemic can be, go to YouTube and search for “1918 Spanish Flu epidemic” – there are some very revealing videos that describe and show what it was, how it spread and what was done to eventually stem its transmission. International travel (then mostly by ship of course) had much to do with the worldwide spread of the disease, which had a death rate somewhat higher than appears to be the case with Covid-19. Denial of its existence and severity was rife back then as well, and clearly contributed to the overall total number of deaths from that pandemic (about 50 million worldwide). For the most part, we have far better sanitation conditions in most parts of the world today (especially the US) than in 1917-18, so the comparison is only somewhat comparable. But to underplay this pandemic is to slow the recovery from it, not hasten the recovery.

  12. If Communist China is going to connect to the rest of the world through airlines, then my airline use is going to change. This wasn’t the first of these viruses, and they are obviously not changing their ways.

    No reservations more than a couple weeks in advance, no long coach flights, going back to the Mooney despite the costs. May upgrade.

    Wife’s still in corporate world and her company is going to do less airline use now as a policy. May be more jets entering their fleet as the economy looks stronger again.

    I think this will be a hit to GA because of money, but many more businesses may look into piston aircraft use again. Long term, it very well be a plus.

  13. When I do flight instruction I tell my students “hope for the best, plan for the worst”. I really hope Oshkosh goes ahead because that would mean my best hope was realized, but that doesn’t mean I am planning on attending

    A lot of what I am reading seems to be the epidemiological equivalent of taking off on a cross country flight into a headwind without enough fuel to get to the destination and no mid flight alternates, because the headwind is forecast to turn into a tailwind.

    We North American GA pilots can still fly our own airplanes pretty much how we want. I still enjoy flying my airplane but now do not take passengers and take great care to maintain social distancing when on the ramp and dis-infect anything I touch that is public, which is pretty much restricted to the self service fuel stations.

    Many European countries have out right banned recreational GA flying, so I am very cognizant of how lucky I am to own an airplane and be financially secure enough to afford to fly it.

  14. “I don’t want to sport around Oshkosh with a mask and gloves, but if that’s what it takes”

    I’ve had it. It’s stupid for me and millions other like me to be forced to wear masks.
    Sorry but lunacy is the new normal.

  15. We continue to fight for our ‘God Given Right to travel freely’ in OUR OWN Aircraft or we succumb to more regulations. Folks who post on these boards have suggestion more regulation is good for a safer aviation community. Others have posted that regulations hinder advancements made when people experiment and take life threatening chances.

    On November 4th, we will wake up to a miraculous discovery that ‘over 99 percent of the people who contracted COVID19 recover’ or ‘The Death Toll is Mounting’. The talking-head TV will be singing and dancing ‘utopia has returned’ or four more years of ‘conspiracy, incompetence and impeachment’.

    • The 1st and 4th amendment guaranty that the government has NO business with our association and that we are secure in all our effects. If anyone tries to stop you from flying; tell then that “it’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS” and carry on.

  16. We have a hyper sensationalist press!
    Poe, in his story ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’
    and General Sherman of Civil War fame
    Describe pretty accurately what type of people the press and newspaper people are.
    Currently, about 647,000 people die EVERY year of
    Heart attacks and Strokes here in the US
    ….and not as much as a bleep about this in the news.
    ….well maybe in the medical journals
    You have to be a a virus like Covid-19 to get a little attention now days.
    This virus, which is probably a little more contagious and fatal than Influenza
    Has dominated the news and has us all doomed.
    Instead of announcing every new death, in every county, in every state,
    Perhaps the media should publish the stats on other illnesses for comparison.
    Last I read, the deaths from Cardiovascular disease have far surpassed
    the wildest estimates of the total Covid-19 death toll.
    Responsible media coverage is indicated.

  17. The problem with the Corona Virus isn’t very complicated. The system has been “right sized” to manage the historic average of patients needing ICU level care.

    Without the current measures there would be a flood of very sick people who will overwhelm the current health care system because it doesn’t have any extra capacity left. That doesn’t just matter to and old person with the virus it matters to anyone who needs any kind of significant medical intervention for any reason but won’t be able to get it because the hospital ICU is already full of Corona Virus patients.

    What happened in the Lombardy region of Italy will happen anywhere there is infected people circulating in the population. No action was taken to combat the virus and the result was not good.

    It is sad it is hard to have a dispassionate fact base discussion about the Corona Virus outbreak in any venue without it descending into hyper partisan vitriol from both sides.

    My brother in law is a doctor with a young family. This is personal because I don’t want him to die because politics got in the way of science.