The special regulation the FAA issued in April 2020 and amended twice during the year to help pilots cope with the coronavirus pandemic should be extended a third time as COVID-19 continues to spread, AOPA and six other organizations wrote in a January 7 letter to the agency.
The industry groups’ letter proposes extending through March some provisions of Special Federal Aviation Regulation SFAR 118-2 that have granted eligible pilots extra time to meet medical, currency, training, and testing deadlines, but will expire at month’s end.
The recommendations for a new SFAR reflect the results of a pilot-community survey AOPA conducted in December. The survey generated 956 responses, shedding light on which previous SFAR provisions pilots found the most useful and what they felt was missing.
The industry groups’ letter to the FAA argued that continued relief is still necessary as COVID-19 deaths have increased 80 percent since the industry’s last request for regulatory relief on September 3. The groups added that “full deployment” to the public of vaccines that have begun to be distributed “will take many months,” and has already encountered delays.
According to the AOPA pilot survey, pilots relied most heavily on SFAR extensions of deadlines for medical certificate renewal and flight review compliance, providing flexibility to schedule a doctor’s appointment or to safely share a cockpit with a flight instructor during the pandemic. The proposed SFAR update would give pilots with medical certificates or flight reviews expiring in February and March 2021 a two-month renewal grace period.
“The results from the industry survey indicate that 21% of respondents utilized the medical certificate extensions (the most utilized of all extensions) and was viewed by most as not having a negative impact on aviation safety,” the organizations wrote, adding that they “are not aware of any accident to date that might have been associated with this extension.”
Eighteen percent of the 956 survey respondents acted on the flight review provisions of current and past SFAR relief.
About 13 percent of respondents reported availing themselves of provisions for calculating their instrument currency—the so-called “look-back” method that was included in the original SFAR and its first amendment, SFAR-118-1, but was dropped from SFAR 118-2. If restored, updated provisions would allow a nine-month look back—instead of the usual six months—for pilots whose instrument currency will lapse in February or March 2021.
About 72 percent of nonworking professional pilots and 56 percent of working professional pilots who responded to the survey said the pandemic has impacted them financially. Most said the SFAR had not negatively affected safety.
For a detailed look at the new SFAR request and a comparison to past and existing SFAR provisions, see the matrix included in the industry letter to the FAA.