British Government relaxes restrictions on general aviation flying in England

Photo: (Martin Needham)

On May 15, the British government’s Department for Transport (DfT) updated its Covid-19- related guidelines for the general aviation community. The move represents a slight relaxation of the restrictions introduced in April.

The government now says that recreational GA flying is now allowed:

In practice this means that only solo flights, or flights where everyone is from the same household, are permitted, because it is not generally possible to observe social distancing during a GA flight.

However, recreational flying in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales is currently still not allowed, as there are different public health and safety requirements.

Limits on GA flying in England

The DfT now takes the view that recreational general aviation is a permissible recreational sport, but this excludes most training flights, as social distancing measures require people not in the same household to maintain 6ft (2m) of separation. It noted that although it recognised that “these flights are a key source of income for many aerodromes, they cannot presently be undertaken in a way that reduces the risk of Covid-19 transmission to an acceptable level.”

It has stated that online training and socially distanced training on the ground can take place, the inability to undertake training flights will mean that some pilots will not be able to resume flying until further easing of restrictions is possible.

It said further guidance about training restrictions will be provided on:  in due course.

Reopening airfields in England

The government recently updated its advice upon working restrictions by encouraging people to go to work where it is not possible to work from home. The DfT has confirmed that this advice also applies to aerodrome operators, with guidance for transport operators having been published on May 11.

See also guidance on safer workplaces.

The new guidelines state that the question of whether any individual aerodrome should open – or reopen – is a business decision for the airfield operators are they are best placed to decide whether opening is in their best interest, either from a commercial or health and safety standpoint, including their ability to maintain safe socially-distancing consistent with current Public Health England guidance. It also noted that it expects that some airfields will need to take some time to implement guidance on making their sites Covid-secure, and that there may therefore be delays to reopening.

GA maintenance flights and workshops

The government has issued the following advice on maintenance check flights:  while workshops which carry out essential maintenance are entitled to continue (in line with guidance regarding car workshops) provided government guidance regarding social distancing and safer workplace guidance is followed.

Other forms of General Aviation

Search and rescue operations and some GA activity, for instance where it absolutely necessary to fly to or for work, are exempted from the above conditions on shared cockpit operations. In all of these activities, the government says it expect pilots and operators to be socially responsible in the decisions they make, and to apply social distancing guidelines as far as possible.

Air Traffic Management

The new guidelines ask pilots returning to flying to be mindful that air traffic services are still limited, as NATS, through its important work to ensure the resilience of the country’s ATM services, is trying to reduce non-essential activities, including services to GA. Although most GA activity occurs outside of controlled airspace, and therefore does not involve NATS, the government is asking pilots to be mindful of the strain their activity may place on other essential services.

The return to business as usual

The DfT said its GA team is well aware of the structural threat this period of lockdown and associated restrictions pose to recreational GA, including with regards to flight training (given that training flights are not currently possible due to directions on social distancing) and said it is trying mitigate any long term negative consequences. A DfT statement concluded: “we are taking steps to ensure that when it is safe to do so, we will continue to fully support the GA sector.”