Standards for Aviation Operations in Response to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
Standards for Aviation Operations in Response to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) were developed by the NWCG National Interagency Aviation Committee (NIAC) in coordination with the Fire Management Board (FMB) and the National Multi-Agency Coordination Group (NMAC). These standards are directed to all interagency aviation users and operators: aviation crews, airbases (all types of aviation bases), aviation managers, fire managers, Incident Management Teams (IMTs), and contractors. These standards are intended to ensure safe and effective national interagency wildland fire aviation operations during national coronavirus response efforts.
These standards were issued via NWCG Memorandum 20-003: NWCG Standards for Aviation Operations in Response to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).
For the most up to date guidance for wildland fire operations, please consult the Guidance for Prevention and Management of COVID-19 During Wildland Fire Operations | NWCG
As of July 2021, all fire personnel regardless of vaccination status are to practice COVID-19 prevention and mitigation measures. These include:
- Masks are required on all federally managed incidents.
- There may be instances where wearing a mask is not feasible and people are exempt from the requirement to wear a mask as they would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty. Examples may include, when individuals are performing unique work-related tasks and physical distancing cannot be maintained such as, where there is a risk that a mask will distort communication (i.e., dispatchers, air crew, and pilots) and when employees are performing arduous work such as firefighter, physical training, physically demanding fuels reduction work or demanding natural resource management activities and wearing a mask can interfere with breathing and/or body temperature.
- All fire personnel need to continue to practice physical distancing. Do not gather in groups; limit face-to-face meetings and maintain a social distance of six feet during necessary meetings.
- Minimize the size and number of personnel at Incident Command Posts (ICPs). Set up fire camps that allow for social distancing. Use smaller spike camps to insulate crews and modules from each other and other outside personnel and resources. Create separate spaces in offices and shared housing where possible.
- Consult with your agency or company for more direction or templates to use.
- Contractors and agency personnel should have a plan that identifies the procedures and frequency for disinfecting the aircraft and protecting personnel against exposure as well as what to do in the event of an exposure or suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
- Each airbase should have a plan that identifies procedures and frequency for disinfecting, facilities, community surfaces, and equipment and protecting personnel against exposure as well as what to do in the event of an exposure or suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
- Wildland fire chemical [e.g., long term retardant, suppressants, and water enhancers, including mobile retardant bases (MRBs)] contractors should have a plan that identifies procedures and frequency for disinfecting mixing, loading, and testing equipment and supplies and protecting personnel against exposure as well as what to do in the event of an exposure or suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
- Ensure implementation of the recommended wildland fire screening protocol by the NWCG’s Emergency Medical Committee (ETA, TBD) for everyone entering the airbase. Document and report findings for any individual(s) meeting sick criteria. Immediately isolate the individual(s) and coordinate treatment with the incident medical unit or local health authority.
- Contractors and agency personnel need to document daily activities and interactions (location, date, time, and names if possible) daily. This information may be requested if a known exposure has occurred.
- Contractors and agency personnel should carry and use disinfecting supplies for protection of aircraft and personnel.
- Follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for personal hygiene and social distancing on and off the base.
- Refer to the FAA SAFO20009 for additional aircrew and pilot guidelines.
- Restrict access to the bases and all aircraft to essential personnel only.
- Keep aircrews separate from other aircrews, contractors, and base personnel. Recommend adding temporary facilities and supplies, such as: travel trailers, tents, mobile offices, portable toilets, wash stations, ice chests, etc., to reduce cross contamination.
- Minimize interaction with the general public and communities during times of standby, extended standby, and non-pay status.
- During periods of standby and extended standby, allow flight crews to isolate themselves in quarters and respond from quarters directly to aircraft with minimal person-to-person contact with public and base personnel.
- Wear a face covering as recommended by CDC.
- Evaluate Mandatory Availability Period (MAP) start dates to existing conditions to potentially allow vendors to either start the MAP later or to stage/standby at the contractor’s base of operations.
- Identify and assign temporary home bases for those resources currently without permanent home bases, such as large airtankers, very large airtankers, and Call When Needed (CWN) aircraft.
- Work with contractor and appropriate agency personnel to consider preplanning and staging of wildland fire chemicals to ensure proper supply and availability without unnecessary delay.
- Align aircraft, aircrew, and crew days off to ensure the minimum use of relief crews and personnel.
- Program managers, contracting officers, and contractors are encouraged to create schedules to minimize or minimize aircrew rotations, including the need for relief crews.
- Avoid the use of relief crews. If relief crews are used, Contracting Officer Representatives (CORs), Contracting Officers (COs) and vendors should develop a travel plan that avoids, as practicable, commercial travel and utilizes driving or chartering aircraft for crew transport to and from the home base or the alternate work location. Work with the contracting officers to identify applicable reimbursement costs and procedures.
- Work with local airbases to identify the number of resources appropriate to stage, with existing facilities, to maintain social distancing and separation.
- When proper separation at an airbase cannot be achieved, utilize alternate locations on the airfield or adjacent airports, to stage aircraft that do not require the infrastructure of an airtanker base (e.g., helicopters, light fixed-wing, etc.).
- If possible, the aircraft and crews should recover nightly at the assigned permanent or temporary home base.
- Use long term rental or agency vehicles and long-term lodging to reduce exposure. Sanitize both lodging and vehicles before, during, and after use.
- Evaluate rest and recuperation (R&R) for the existing crew in place and/or reduce staffing for the duration of the assignment.
- Spread out resources and minimize large group gatherings using multiple locations for aircraft placement, personnel, and incident response.
- Reduce staffing numbers when approved and applicable such as:
- Requesting two helicopters for each helicopter manager as appropriate (restricted/limited).
- Expect to utilize and provide pre-approvals for extension of personnel to 21 days.
- Support contractor and agency personnel unavailability and emergency demobilization when coordinated through and approved by the supervisor and CO.
- When military aircraft are activated, position them away from existing contractor aircraft, agency personnel, and existing agency bases. Consider reloading Modular Airborne Firefighting System(MAFFS) aircraft only at their activated MAFFS base using MRBs.
- Consider that resources ordered out of state may be required to quarantine for 14 days either upon arrival or return from assignment.
- Staff base with minimal personnel during standby periods allowing the remaining base personnel to work and respond from quarters.
- Airbase, flight crews, and/or contractors should implement a daily log or checklist for identifying all personnel on base daily along with their health status.
- Helibase selection and mobilization should take into consideration all CDC, agency, and FAA SAFO20009 guidelines and locations that maximize social distancing and separation of aircrews.
- Utilize virtual briefings to minimize person-to-person contact. Utilize conference lines, email, Microsoft Teams, or other similar agency-approved multi-media resources with links to appropriate briefing materials.
- Aircraft dispatch forms should be delivered to all resources electronically instead of in person, or information can be relayed over the radio.
- When available utilize additional agency vehicles to transport crews while maintaining social distancing. If agency vehicles are not available, acquire long-term rental vehicles. Contact local dispatch for assistance on emergency equipment rentals.
- Minimize transporting passengers as much as possible; clean each aircraft between flights in accordance with FAA direction.
- Minimize the use of shared personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g., headsets and flight helmets).
- Clean PPE before and after utilization.
- All cargo being transported via aircraft will be handled by essential personnel only while utilizing proper PPE at all times.
- All personnel that show any symptoms of illness are to immediately isolate as recommended by CDC/FAA and follow agency, CDC, and state guidelines for notifications, testing, and quarantines.
- Airbases and/or aircraft may be unstaffed or closed due to COVID-19. Do not staff or open a contaminated airbase or aircraft without proper decontamination and approval. Notify controlling dispatch and/or coordination center of status changes.
COVID-19 risk mitigation should not increase or transfer risk to flight crews. Flight crews will determine mission go, no go decision based on proper risk mitigation.
Contact Information: National Interagency Aviation Committee.