IFR Fix: Squawking 2020

ADS-B did have its metaphorical 15 minutes of fame. Then came the coronavirus pandemic, with its unpredictable impacts on air traffic control operations. The FAA confronted the new dilemma with a series of special federal aviation regulations that, at first, allowed pilots who met narrow flight time and mission-specific requirements to extend their timelines for maintaining instrument currency (SFAR 118 and SFAR 118-1), but later discontinued further extensions (SFAR 118-2).

Where pandemic relief goes from here remains a topic of discussion between AOPA and the FAA, although indications are that the FAA is cool to continuing the SFAR provisions that remain in effect, such as flight review due-date extensions, and the valid periods of airman knowledge tests. (In SFAR 118-2, which took effect October 1, the FAA cited “improvements in the availability of facilities for training, testing, and examinations and the number of persons available to conduct those activities” as the rationale for scaling back exceptions.

“The FAA expects that, with continued improvement over the next several months, no further relief will be necessary,” it noted.

That was the picture two months ago. Meanwhile, however, the pandemic’s impact has resurged, as evidenced by cautionary language that appeared November 30 on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website noting that “COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across the United States are rising.”

As was the case last spring, the resurgence is once again impacting ATC operations. On November 25, AOPA reported that it was important for pilots to check the FAA’s list of facilities impacted by COVID-19 for ATC shutdowns or other disruptions that could affect their routings, access to airspace, or airport services. (For example, in Maine, an “ATC zero” advisory and an associated aerodrome notam advised pilots for a few days in late November that the normally 24/7 Class C airspace at Bangor International Airport, and the airport control tower, would close for several hours during the overnight period.) Other ATC facilities were also experiencing various service constraints.

For pilots challenged to keep up their IFR proficiency, it’s back to basics. Consider adopting the strategies offered in section 5-1-2 of the Aeronautical Information Manual (“Follow IFR procedures even when operating VFR”) and make use of all flying opportunities to analyze scenarios from an instrument pilot’s perspective.

Make a resolution to get a fresh instrument proficiency check in 2021, then fly enough to remain instrument current, come what may, through next December.

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