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.