Change in course: Ohio State aviation charts path to success amid COVID-19

Posted: September 9, 2020

Pilots in training learn the critical skillset of aeronautical decision making to prepare them to quickly think through an issue that arises during flight. Now, more than ever, the concept is resonating with Ohio State’s aviation community.

When COVID-19 arose on Ohio State’s horizon in spring 2020, the aviation program completed a virtual aeronautical decision making process. After assessing the situation and adopting new protocol to meet both university health policies and Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the aviation programs are now on course for success through the coming months.

Flight education

Image of flight training inside cockpit
Student pilot Mac Kirk (left) and certified advanced flight instructor Adam Dawson complete a preflight checklist in one of Ohio State’s training aircraft.

In Ohio State’s high-demand FAA-certified flight education program, instructors and students have adapted to new modes of training.

“Operating a university flight education program requires strict adherence to a number of safety protocols,” said Flight Education Director Brandon Mann. “At the start of the pandemic we quickly realized we would need to implement another layer of safety procedures, specifically aimed at keeping our staff, pilots and students healthy.”

While observing university safety policies and meeting the requirements of the FAA, instructors and students have taken flight on an interim, parallel path during COVID-19. Where once the flight education hub was buzzing with activity, students now wait in their cars until their flight time slots and network via virtual platforms.

Mann shared some other ways the program has adapted. “Aside from a comprehensive sanitization protocol, our team has reconfigured the process of dispatching aircraft and modified delivery methods for teaching ground lessons.”

The new procedures have allowed students to continue forward in their educational careers.

Virtual classrooms

Pilot training is only one half of the aviation curriculum. The other, classroom instruction, prepares students for a variety of aviation careers. Faced with the changing landscape amid COVID-19, the Center for Aviation Studies quickly adapted.

Image of virtual aviation class
Aviation lecturer John Barbas teaches a virtual class during autumn 2020.

Classes that could be taught virtually were moved to Zoom. Instruction requiring in-person components – such as aircraft dispatch and aircraft investigation – transitioned to implement a variety of safety procedures. The center also received authorization from the FAA to teach ground courses virtually, a first for the program.

“Due to the fact that a portion of our curriculum is overseen by the FAA and requires in-person attendance, it has taken some work to navigate this new virtual environment,” said Brian Strzempkowski, assistant director of the Center for Aviation Studies. “The FAA has been great to work with as we have gone through this process, and have occasionally joined our classes to see how the virtual platform is working.”

Strzempkowski commended the center’s team as central to the successful transition. “I’ve been very impressed by the way our faculty, lecturers and advisors have creatively redesigned offerings to accommodate today’s needs, from virtual whiteboards to implementing group work in online classes,” said Strzempkowski. “What’s more, students have positively responded to the flexibility and changes.”

Technology is also enabling aviation’s extracurricular activities to continue. “Complementing our flight training and classroom instruction, we continue to build community within aviation’s six student organizations,” he shared. Monthly virtual events are being planned for autumn semester.

Prospective students and recent graduates

Image of training aircraft preparation and cleaning
Student pilot Mac Kirk completes a preflight inspection on a training aircraft ahead of his flight slot, while another aircraft is cleaned postflight.

Although it’s well known that the commercial aviation industry is currently experiencing a decline, after COVID-19 has passed it’s anticipated that the industry-wide pilot shortage will persist. To keep up with the future need, CAS has moved its prospective student information sessions and tours online – ramping up to reach an even wider audience than in years past.

Despite these predictions for the future, recent graduates of Ohio State’s professional pilot program have reported facing furloughs from the commercial aviation industry during COVID-19. Again, CAS stepped up with a creative approach to help.

With technology and safety protocols in place, CAS is assisting alumni by opening to them the aircraft dispatch certificate program. “Now, recent graduates who lost their pilot jobs in the current market may be able to take advantage of a new career path by earning a flight dispatch certificate through Ohio State,” Strzempkowski commented.

Charting success

Image of student worker at flight education dispatch desk
Ellie Brown, student dispatcher, checks out aircraft keys and cleaning supplies to student pilots.

These modified programs offer a variety of opportunities for current and future Ohio State aviation students and alumni to continue their educational pursuits while prioritizing safe health practices during the pandemic.

The team is cognizant that while the world adjusts to myriad changes, aviation remains essential. By quickly maneuvering through the unsuspected, the programs continue to equip Buckeyes to be highly skilled aviators and aviation professionals. And, just like the goal of training for aeronautical decision making, the aim is that today’s students will graduate ready to face any future uncertainties.

by Holly Henley, communications specialist