A couple of weeks ago we ran two stories that illustrate—well something—about the ways in which recreational aviation is being affected by COVID-19 in different countries. One story talked about the virtual lockdown of non-essential flying in the U.K., enabled largely by obliging weekend warriors, who complied with their government’s polite request to please hang up their headsets until this blows over. British authorities didn’t see any need to issue any orders or rules to accomplish the mass grounding. Pilots just did as requested with little fuss.
In the same issue of AVweb Flash, we told the story of a pilot who took advantage of the eerily empty skies over his native New Jersey and did low-and-overs (really low) at Newark, LaGuardia and JFK. Although always the consummate professionals, you could hear the levity in the rapid-fire delivery of the controllers and their ready participation in the rare event.
A few readers noticed the juxtaposition of those two different realities and it got me thinking about my own occasional flying activities in the face of a global pandemic. A beautiful Cessna 140 with a fresh annual awaits and my home airport, a non-towered but beautiful facility that is rarely busy on even the nicest of summer weekends, is at my disposal. I’ve had a little time on my hands so there’s really no practical reason for me to stay on the ground. There is actually a compelling case for me to slip the surly bonds. It was a brutal winter here and I haven’t spun a prop in months. The plane needs to fly and so do I.
A few weeks ago, many pilots were bragging about “social distancing” flights on the social media of regional flying associations in my part of the world. It’s been a beautiful spring and it would be fun to go flying today. But a heated debate grew on those social media accounts about whether flying for fun was the right thing to do under the circumstances. It created enough conflict in my mind that I decided to plant a big patch of asparagus instead, not just because it was something else to do but because we’ve wanted asparagus for years.
Planting asparagus is a leap of faith and an investment in the future. In a few weeks, perfect spears of delicious asparagus will spring out of the sandy soil. We can’t touch them because they are the future of a bountiful crop that will feed us and many others for 20 years or more. A little patience goes a long way.
As we dug and raked and sweated in the strengthening spring sun, the retroactive rationale for the decision to stay on the ground became clearer and I’m fully aware that this train of thought will be anathema to a lot of people who have read this far. Keep those cards and letters coming but please try to be constructive and polite.
For me, it came down to answering two questions.
First, would it hurt anyone if I did pattern work for an hour? The answer is an unequivocal No. Flying solo is the essence of social distancing, the gas pumps are self-serve and I would take hand sanitizer with me to wipe them down after fueling up. There are a couple of specious justifications for pausing recreational aviation. Authorities have said such flying will put an unnecessary burden on ATC and that a crash or other emergency would divert essential services needed to cope with the pandemic. Both are a stretch in the context of my modest flying proposal.
Perhaps the larger question, however, is whether or not it would help.
That is also an unequivocal No. Other than the slightest shred of reassurance that extra practice might give my next right-seat victim, there is no benefit to be derived from my hour of delight for anyone but me. Given what others are going through and giving up, such an indulgence seems to be the very definition of selfishness. And the $100 it would cost me for that little bit of self-gratification could be more beneficially used by a food bank or on a gift certificate at a local merchant or restaurant.
A couple of trite slogans are heard everywhere in the COVID world. People are saying “we’re all in the same boat.” That’s not true. We’re in the same storm but we’re in very different boats and we’re all riding it out much differently.
“We’re all in this together” is also not precisely correct. A few of us can literally rise above the earthbound mess for a time and for now that just doesn’t seem justifiable or frankly, very nice.
By the time we’re able to enjoy that fresh asparagus (we can pick a few spears next year about this time). It will be worth the wait.
This should all have passed by then but I suspect it will be fresh in everyone’s minds. I’m looking forward to seeing that garden from the air for years to come and I can be a little patient to smooth that process.