Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing?---JRR Tolkien.
Small as it may be, the current virus has tossed the entire world into disarray.
In somewhat viral irony, it became the very Trojan Horse for our political quagmire and the collapse of a democratically elected government. I won't wax political. I'll just say that I find the entire affair rather slutty.
Meanwhile, back at work, as a segment of both, the nation's oil and gas industry as well as the transportation sector via aviation, business continued, but it was rather business as unusual.
It was a bit scary at first, when at the turn of the year, company small talk revolved around pilots having to fly suspected Covid19 carriers. I did wonder what this would entail. Covid19, at January's end, was almost someone else's worry. If we shut our eyes tight enough, we wouldn't get it. We had faced lots of weird viruses and epidemics and yet not everyone was affected by the Nipah virus, the Coxsackie hand-foot-mouth disease of 1977 which seemed to favour young kids, or the SARS of the new millennium. However, the virulence of Covid19 meant that within days of the February 24th collapse of the government, its wildfire had spread far and fast enough to reach the further fringes of offshore helicopter aviation around the world. No matter if we buried our heads in the desert sand, this one would not pass us overhead.
As things would have it, my first Covid19 Person Under Suspicion (PUI) extraction was on March Friday the 13th. The route was to Angsi Alpha, relatively nearby. The myth and fluff of the pandemic had me trepidated for a while, but I had been in these situations countless times and I decided to throw myself into it. The sortie was rather uneventful, and upon landing from the mission, I was to return home straight away and self-quarantine till the PUI's Covid19 test results came forth. After three days of being a complete slob, the group chat text revealed the PUI had tested negatively and I resumed work without hesitation. As the days passed, PUI extractions continued steadily, alternating between increasing frequency and being sporadic, like heaving breaths of the pandemic itself. The company slowly evolved the Covid19 Protocol. Eventually, the wearing of decontamination suits became optional, which set my mind at ease.
I realise that I was fortunate to be assigned such duties as to carry PUIs safely back to shore where they can be provided the appropriate medical intervention as may have been neccessary. Nothing about that privilege needs elaboration.
We are all well aware that Covid19 is embedded in our communities for the long run. From Leonardo, the current OEM of the AW139 to the company's engineering arm, accruing to the initiating documents from the OEM, plans are under way to install a cockpit-cabin barrier to enhance the current Covid19 aviation social distancing in flight. Our maximum passenger load now stands at six, which is half the seating capacity. This has made life easier, since the seats occupiable are already designated. I no longer have to haggle with the Helideck Crew to restrict any passenger load less than eight pax strong to the first two rows only, keeping the centre of gravity somewhat centred in order to preclude any instance of a tail-down moment upon lift off. Some days, we win some.
Flight scheduling seems to have plunged off a graphical precipice. Upon the end of the monsoon contract during which the sortie board often reached 22 flights per day, we now see the busiest days having only 4 flights. An influx of new pilots without offshore experience into home base Kerteh has further curtailed how often I get to go up in the air. Priorities mean that they get assigned flights more often on the offshore sectors of lenient clients who don't prerequire 50 hours of offshore experience, after which they become eligible to fly for any of the snooty clients we serve. Pilots with ample offshore hours, therefore, literally have to take a backseat for now. I thought clocking 33 hours in April was bad. I clocked 7.15 hours in May. Some days, we lose a few. I say this even with the neccessary gratitude of being employed.
Yes, I know I am not the only one in the boat. So we keep on rowing through these treacled times. I say a small prayer for my bretheren in the fixed-wing aviation world who bear with the deeper scourges of the virulence of these days. May they glide to a soft landing soon.