Where We Stand Right Now
April 1, 2020: Update
How do I start? Writing an account of our experience during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic seems daunting because it is still very much a real danger, but here is our story as it still unfolds.
Academy of Aviation is a flight school based out of New York, with locations in Farmingdale on Long Island, and White Plains, in Westchester. Both are very close to New York City. We also have an operation down in Gastonia, NC (very close to Charlotte) where we are the FBO of Gastonia Municipal Airport.
We entered 2020 on a high note. We worked very hard and procured financing for our domestic students. Our locations in White Plains and Gastonia was approved by SEVIS for international visas (accompanying our main campus in Farmingdale) and we spent countless hours the past couple of years developing our accredited Career Pilot Programs with the ACCSC. One of our favorite accomplishments was the very recent ability to offer the F-1 Visa to international students for all 3 campuses, to include the opportunity to work as a CFI. We saw our school's student roster at its highest peak in the 20-year history of the academy.
Then COVID-19 hit. Being in New York, our city was hit hard. We watch the news, we hear the stories, we listen to the press conferences every day and we're all personally and nervously horrified, but we also had to react fast as a business. I have no idea what other flight schools did at the outbreak, because there is no script for this, but crisis makes you circle the wagons, and survival intuition is important for everyone because individual lives and livelihoods are immediately at stake.
We had to react, but like I said, there is no script, so I can just tell you what we did.
We have a weekly senior staff meeting that commutes from around the metropolitan New York area to our base in Farmingdale, and we immediately switched that over to a remote conferencing format. We closed all of our locations to the public while coming up with a plan for our flight students. We secured FAA approval to go all digital, and within days, we were able to start online ground school and 1-on-1 flight instruction. Flight dispatch procedures were altered to maintain operations while doing our part in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. To start, fever and symptom screening for Instructors and Students were done prior to pre check of every aircraft, and before-and-after flight sanitation procedures were done on the ramp as outlined by the CDC.
So, how did we alter our procedures, and did other schools do the same? I don't know what other schools did, and we didn't have time to research. But this was our plan:
Dispatching lessons remotely, students and instructors met at the entrance to the ramp, called in for a dispatch, and received their dispatch approval electronically. Dispatch coordinated with ramp staff to have the aircraft bag with the keys inside the aircraft. When the flight returned, the CFI called dispatch to get checked in. Again, dispatch sent all required documents electronically, and the ramp staff collected the bag from the airplane, completely sanitized the bag contents and the common surfaces like door handles, and sanitized the interior of the aircraft.
Ground school lessons were scheduled by a dispatcher, who provided the student and instructor a conference bridge created on a managed calendar. The conference took place on the "Google Hangout" created by dispatch on our managed calendar. A defined process for remote school is required for us to maintain enough academic integrity to ensure the FAA, The Accrediting Commission and Bureau of Proprietary School Supervision are satisfied with these temporary measures, and we were approved for our solutions.
We shut down our FAA Written Examination testing centers in New York and only scheduled exams for currently enrolled Academy of Aviation students. Tests were limited to one exam at a time, with a sterilization process conducted in between. Each applicant received their own testing supplement book that was disposed of along with the other testing materials after their test. The room was deep-cleaned between tests.
All Simulator lessons in New York were canceled.
Again, there is no script. All of this was enacted fast and instinctual. We reminded students to stay at home if they felt they are showing any symptoms or felt they had been exposed. Academy of Aviation scheduling and cancellation policies were relaxed as we asked students to monitor the emergence of symptoms.
And then, Governor Cuomo mandated shutdown of our operations along with all non-essential businesses. Thankfully, none of our staff is sick and our physical New York campuses are now temporarily closed, but we're still keeping our students on task with online training and pressing them to complete the necessary preparation for endorsement to take their FAA written exams once testing resumes. We hope this is sooner rather than later, because the world right now needs hope, and immersing ourselves in our routine is our little part of maintaining hope.
Very importantly and most personally, Academy of Aviation has maintained employment of the majority of our staff-- and we are very proud to be able to do this as others are laying off flight instructors, administrative staff, maintenance and flight operations staff-- and some flight schools are forced to shut their doors for good.
Aviation is in our blood. To stay proactive in the industry, Academy of Aviation plans to host online seminars to, for example, detail for Veterans how to utilize their GI Bill benefits for flight training, how to determine if an F-1 Visa or M-1 Visa school and program are right for you (for international students) and we'll take questions live after each webinar. This is all on the fly (no pun intended) as I said, because nobody has written the script for this crazy time. It's important for us to continue to be informative to aspiring pilots about how they can still achieve their dream career, and the world will keep revolving with the need for pilots who love and need to fly.
A hint of hope: some of our Gastonia, NC location snaps from the past week, direct from Instagram:
View this post on Instagram
From our Gastonia headquarters: Flight student Devan Saychay and CFI Rachel Cychosz after his first solo! Congratulations, continue to stay safe with our 1-on-1 training plan of operation, and continue to dutifully follow all precautions and guidelines. We’re all very thankful to be able to continue our operations in North Carolina!