As UND prepares to welcome back flight training for the first time in nearly two months, the school’s flight operations team has been working to ensure the safety of students and employees.
“It’s going to be different,” said Brian Willis, director of safety for UND flight operations.
The university announced the phased return of flight operations earlier this week. The program, one of the campus’ most well-known, has been paused since March 25 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The restart plan calls for some students to resume flight training as early as Tuesday, May 26, the university said in a news release Wednesday evening. The university said that because of the “phased-nature” of the restart, UND Aerospace urges students not to return to campus until notified by UND Flight Operations of their targeted start date.
“(Students) are not supposed to come back until they are invited by flight operations,” Aerospace Dean Paul Lindseth emphasized.
Leaders with the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences expect to have approximately 380 students on campus for flight instruction, which is about half of a normal summer’s class. In January there were about 1,400 students in the program.
What will be in store for those students when they arrive?
There will be screening forms, temperature checks, changes to flight dispatches to limit social interaction and various other changes before aspiring pilots step into UND planes, Willis said. Once inside the aircraft, there will be a mask requirement as it is not possible to social distance in the cockpit. The masks can be removed if the person in charge determines it to be OK for other safety concerns, such as light-headedness or overheating, Willis said.
Additionally, there will be increased sanitation procedures for aircraft, other training areas and public spaces. Willis said some furniture has been removed from common areas and there are hand sanitizer stations, rubber gloves and masks around the building. In addition to wearing masks inside the plane, masks will be required while in common areas.
“The ultimate goal is to continue to provide the highest quality of aviation education that we can in this pandemic,” Willis said. “For the last eight weeks, our team at flight (operations) has been creating these procedures for the safety of our employees and our students.”
To limit social interaction, flights will be spread throughout the day, Dick Shultz, director of flight operations, said. Shultz said flight operations will discuss how things are going on a daily basis to ensure student and staff safety.
“It’s been pretty nerve-racking to try to get back to flying,” Lindseth said. “We're sure glad we gained approval from both President (Joshua) Wynne and (incoming) President (Andrew) Armacost. We’ve been working toward that feverishly and all hands on deck for the last two months.”
While flight operations have been shut down for about eight weeks due to the pandemic, this isn’t the first time the school has dealt with a lengthy stop in flight instruction. Flight operations in Grand Forks also were shut down for about two months as a result of the 1997 flood, Shultz said.
Although the shutdowns were for similar lengths of time, the amount of evolving information this year is different, he said.
“It was just literally from morning to night – the information would change from a state level to national level to the university level,” Shultz said. “So we had to be patient in that regard to make sure we did it right. And working with UND leadership, we made sure that we feel we have a good plan in place and mitigations in place to get us operating safely.”
In addition to being the first time students are back on campus since the university moved to online learning in mid-March, it will also be the first test of the university’s new housing arrangements. UND announced earlier this month that students living in all residence halls and University Place will have a private room in the fall. Students will no longer have a roommate, but, in most instances, will have a suite-mate in a connected room, the post said.
Troy Noeldner, director of UND housing, said the university doesn’t know what the demand for housing will be this summer, as many of the students who will be flying already are living in Grand Forks and may not require a dorm room. He said University Place, which is apartment-style living, is open this summer but traditional residence halls are not open at this time.
“Right now, we're feeling pretty good that we should be able to accommodate students who need housing on campus in University Place or in our on campus apartments as well,” he said.