Aviation in the age of pestilence – a reminiscence

Global Aviator|May 2020

Aviation in the age of pestilence – a reminiscence
Now is not the time for people like me to start pontificating about the impact of COVID-19 on aviation, because the situation is simply too new, and too fast-moving. It’s incredibly important of-course, but things need to settle down before academics like me should be publishing on it.
Dr Guy Gratton

However, there’s nothing to stop me reminiscing, so let me take you back to 2001 when the UK was afflicted with a completely different pandemic. This was Foot and Mouth Disease, an airborne virus that whilst harmless to humans affects and can be fatal in animals including cattle, sheep and pigs (and elephants, but this is not a major concern in England). On 19 February 2001 several cases of FMD, which had last been known in Britain in 1967 were detected at two abbatoirs in the south of England. The diseased animals were quickly traced back to a farm in Northumberland, some 300 miles north where a farmer (later convicted of several criminal offences for this) had been failing to properly sterilise food waste being used for feeding his pigs. Within a week, as a consequence of a mixture of airborne transfer, animal movements, and people moving between farms: multiple additional cases were springing up all over the country.

At that time I earned my living as Chief Technical Officer to the British Microlight Aircraft Association, which made me responsible for the airworthiness of a fleet of over 3 000 single and 2-seat aeroplanes operated by a mixture of schools and private owners at several hundred sites across the British Isles. Historically the legacy of noisy 2-stroke engines, cost issues and suspicious establishment figures had made a majority of microlighters in Britain feel somewhat unwelcome at many General Aviation airports, and so microlights in either small or large numbers were mostly found operating from small strips on farmland.


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May 2020