I won’t go over in detail how awful 2020 was for aviation, and for pilots specifically, but I will list the lowlights. We entered 2020 with the 737 Max grounded globally for eight months and the unfolding crisis only looking worse for Boeing and the FAA as each new revelation hit.
Then there was the Kobe Bryant crash, in which the international basketball superstar, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in what looks for all the world like an accident that should never have happened.
And then the novel coronavirus pandemic reared its ugly head. Around the world, tens of thousands of airline pilots, and many thousands more support crew, lost their jobs as airline flying plummeted. Schools were shuttered, businesses around the world—including aviation businesses—went belly up, a lot of people, including pilots and flight attendants, were hit by COVID-19.
The numbers worldwide and in the United States are staggering. Millions sick, hundreds of thousands of Americans dead. Schools and businesses closed, and hospitals overwhelmed. I don’t need to tell you. We’re all living it.
It’s hard to talk about our segment without acknowledging that the hit to light GA hasn’t been as bad, but largely survivable, unlike the devastating impact the pandemic has had on other segments of aviation.
The biggest small-plane events on the calendar, including Sun ’n Fun and Oshkosh AirVenture, were canceled, and we all learned just how much we can do with Zoom and how it pales in comparison to being there with actual people. The EAA didn’t even call its virtual week of aviation content anything resembling “Oshkosh” or “AirVenture.” It knew.
And to top it all off, we had the most polarizing presidential election in our lifetimes, political uprisings from all quarters, with attendant murders and riots, the impeachment of the president of the United States—he was acquitted—and a referendum on women’s rights.
All…this…year. If your head isn’t spinning, please let us know what your secret is.
What Does 2021 Have in Store?
So, welcome, 2021…except, not so fast. I’m optimistic, very, very cautiously optimistic. There are good signs, to be sure. Vaccines are on their way, and the by the time you read this, there will hopefully be large numbers of people getting them, and as the numbers grow and the virus is subdued, life might begin to return to something resembling normal, though if you’re like me, the fear is that it will never be normal again.
And there are still risks, big risks out there, some of them from this virus, which we will not have beaten but outlasted, at least those of us lucky enough to have outlasted it.
Will Sun ’n Fun be back in 2021? The timing will be tight, at best. Oshkosh, while not until July, is huge and draws people from around the world. Depending on where we’re at with the virus, I think there’s a good chance AirVenture 2021 will be in the flesh. For many of us, it might be the first big gathering for 18 months, if there are no further surprises and we can once and for all get on top of this scourge.
As I’ve said before, we’re a tough group of people. Part of the reason we do what we do is because we’re not good at people underestimating us or putting limits on us. Still, this pandemic has tested us in ways none of us has ever seen before…and hopefully we’ll never see again.
I wrote a piece recently entitled “The Glorious Insanity of Airplane Ownership,” and this week the “insanity” has reared its ugly head in the form of required inspections and perhaps repairs to thousands of Piper PA-28s and PA-32s.
The sense of urgency about this one is understandable. It was undertaken in response to what the NTSB found when it was investigating the crash of a Piper PA-28 Arrow when one of the plane’s wings came off in flight in Florida in April of 2018 while the pilot was on a commercial check ride with an examiner. Both were killed in the crash.
In the aftermath, the NTSB found that the wing spar had cracks, which led to the crash.
It’s every pilot’s worst nightmare—a catastrophic structural failure in flight—so something needed to be done. The balance is always between doing too much, which could ground big segments of the GA fleet, or too little, which. . . well, we know what can happen unless problems are addressed.
Suffice it to say that this AD is going to keep mechanics busy and owners with their checkbooks at the ready. Again. The FAA estimates the inspection will cost $170, which isn’t going to break any airplane owner’s bank. Installing new access panels on the underside of the wing is optional, an option projected by the FAA at $730, and it’s one that most owners are likely to skip. After all, borescopes can get the job done. What doesn’t get said is how much it will cost if there is damage found. To say that it could get, to use a friend’s favorite term, “pricey” is an understatement.
And remember that this is in addition to ADs the FAA published recently on many thousands of legacy Cessna aircraft for problems found in their tails, wings and strut attach points.
The point the FAA is making is the same as the one I’ve previously made here. Our segment is built on a fleet of aging aircraft, a great many of them between 50 and 75 years old. We love what we do, and it’s a good thing, too, because staying on top of our planes and keeping them safely flying simply ain’t going to be getting any cheaper.