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Supporting Flight Crew Returning to Work After a Long Absence

COVID-19 conditions both within the State and globally mean that there may be additional challenges when returning flight crew to normal operations.  

Where crew have been on furlough, leave or have been non-current for a long period of time, they may experience a feeling loss of confidence in being able to operate in the changed environment. They may pass a PPC and be able to demonstrate that they operate the aircraft during the required procedures but may have concerns about the lack of practice within the day to day environment. Operators should seek to tailor the return to work training and work planning in a way that supports crew as they re-enter flying operations. It maybe that they are given extra time in the simulator or are provided with more than the legal minimum number of flights with a trainer in order to release them back into normal operations. (See also - Returning to normal crew training, proficiency and recency validity periods). In addition, increased time for flight preparations should be allocated during the first few weeks after a return to duty.

Some personnel may also not feel safe and in control about returning to work. They have concerns about contracting Covid-19, exposing vulnerable family members to the virus, or may have even experienced the loss of a close relative or friend to the disease.  Many may have isolated individually or with limited family members and are hesitant to reengage in an everyday routine. Operators need to consider return-to-work conversations with their crew members and make sure that all crew are aware of the support (including peer support programs) available to them to enable crew to return to work confidently.

Some crew may have experienced specific issues associated with wellbeing during lockdown. These could be depression, increased use of alcohol as a coping mechanism or other issues associated with isolation from society. Changes to a flight crew member's health status, in association with decreased access to aviation medical examiner support, can result in increased operational safety risks. Again, operators need to be aware of the potential for these issues and publicize mechanisms and activities to support flight crew to return fit for duty.

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