PLEASE SEE UPDATE BELOW: Say that you’re under a coronavirus Shelter In Place (SIP) order in your local community. Can you go out to the airport and go flying? Or get or provide flight instruction? Or work on your plane? Can you, in fact, do any one of a dozen or more things that pilots and others regularly travel to the airport to do?
That’s what pilots in locations across the country, from Boston to San Diego, are asking themselves, as mandatory SIP orders have gone into effect in cities, counties and states. Every one of these orders, at least every one of the more than a dozen that we’ve seen, has provisions allowing essential business, like going to the grocery store, or non-hazardous outdoor activities, such as going on walks alone or in select company.
But what’s the status of recreational or proficiency flying? While it’s possible to consider it “essential” for reasons pilots know so well and considering that there appear to be only slight risks associated with it, why not go flying?
In Austin, Texas, which only recently was placed under an SIP order, the conversation over the subject on an FB goup devoted to Austin pilots has turned heated. While several pilots were looking to discuss the bare legality of going to the airport to go flying—can you even legally drive your car there?—others expressed their contempt for the rules. Many said they would simply continue to do what they wanted to do and take their chances, a reply that brought the disapproval of others, which then began the discussion of the seriousness of the threat and the rights of the government to even issue such orders.
For those who are adhering to the order, or at least attempting to, there doesn’t seem to be much to support pilots’ desire to go flying, as personal flying itself isn’t an essential activity. One reading is that as an outdoor recreational activity (all the better if it’s an open cockpit plane), flying is allowed, though traveling to the airport to go flying is prohibited in many places, as it is currently in Austin.
Some pilots appear to be ignoring the letter of the law and quietly going flying, and so far we’ve not heard reports of anyone being stopped for the arguable infraction, nor do we expect to see that kind of traffic stop any time soon.
So back to the original question, “Can you go flying when under a Shelter In Place order?” The answer appears in most cases to be, technically, no. Should that stop anyone from doing it? That, as many of the posters in the Austin pilots groups pointed out, is a question the individual needs to answer for him or herself.
UPDATE: A couple of folks emailed expressing disappointment that this article did not give a “yes” or “no” answer to the question, can you legally go flying if you’re under a coronavirus stay at home order. The problem is, there is no clear answer. In some places, such as where I live, Austin, Texas, where there is a shelter in place order, it is technically not authorized to drive to the airport to go flying, unless it’s an essential activity, which by my reading, recreational flying is not, even for proficiency purposes. Then again, because stay at home orders are being issued and enforced on a state by state and city by city basis, and every one of those orders is different from the next, what you can and can’t do regarding activities or travel is specific to people in your city or state. Not only that, but these orders were done on the fly with time of the essence and they are broad in nature, so none that we have seen discuss personal flying at all. So the answer is, there is no one answer, and even if you think you know the answer for where you live, in every case we’ve seen so far, it’s a grey area, so be careful.