April is the cruelest month, poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, and that was especially true at Van Nuys Airport.

In April there were 9,537 general aviation operations – meaning takeoffs or landings – at the San Fernando Valley airfield, a decrease of 44 percent from the 16,942 operations in April 2019. The coronavirus outbreak accounted for the lack of action on the runway. The airport’s statistics do not separate out jets from prop planes.

Scott Cutshall, senior vice president of business operations at Clay Lacy Aviation, No. 3 on the Business Journal’s list of Aviation Companies, said that at the worst point in the health crisis business was down more than 90 percent.

Since early May, there has been a small but consistent movement toward more customers needing aircraft. But, Cutshall added, there is still a long way to go before the industry gets back to anything approaching normal.

The reason, he said, is because about 85 percent of flying in private jets is driven by business needs. There are still a lot of businesses across the country that have employees working from home and have placed restrictions on travel, he explained.

“A lot of those restrictions are in place well into the summer months,” Cutshall continued. “Knowing that a large percentage of business aviation travel is driven by business need, we feel that is why it is going to take longer than one or two months to get back to some semblance of normal.”

Tony Marlow, president of aviation operations and business development at Castle & Cooke Aviation, No. 1 on the Business Journal list with a location at Van Nuys Airport, said that for the month of April into May, his company’s activity level had dropped about 90 percent as well.

“We went from normal operations in the third week in March to virtually nothing over the course of about three days,” Marlow said.

As June started, Castle & Cooke’s activity was down about 70 percent as the number of flights began to increase.

“We are encouraged that some of the activity is coming back,” Marlow continued. “We are up to five to eight flights a day that are arriving or departing.”

In-flight cleanliness

As a response to the coronavirus pandemic, Clay Lacy started what it calls its Clean Check Standard. It was given that name so that employees and customers alike would know there was a unified approach to keeping the aircraft clean, Cutshall said

The standard works this way – when a plane comes in, say for maintenance, it is gone over for an hour by a bipolar ionization machine that kills germs, bacteria, mold and other air pollutants. Only then does a two-person crew go on board in full body suits to clean and decontaminate the interior using EPA-certified and aviation-approved cleaning products.

“The reason that is important is we don’t want to use a product that is effective from a health standpoint but harmful to the surface of the aircraft,” Cutshall said.

Once the maintenance work is completed, the process is repeated with ionization machine and the crew cleaning the interior. Then the aircraft is sealed until the client arrives.

“It is clean coming in, protecting our employees, and it is clean going out, so the client knows they are getting on board an aircraft they know has been disinfected and sanitized,” he said.

At Castle & Cooke, the aviation company offers a similar service done by Sharp Details, a separate company on its leasehold.

Also, the firm has taken cleaning its ground facility seriously and follows all the Los Angeles County recommendations regarding social distancing and separation of personnel.

“We put up plastic guards. We put up six-foot lines in the FBO (fixed-base operation) where the folks can stand,” Marlow said. “If we need signatures on fuel invoices, we do that remotely so there is no direct, personal contact. The company also closed down temporarily its north ramp lobby to minimize viral exposure.

“We didn’t really need it because we didn’t have any activity. We still had it cleaned weekly in case we did need to use it,” Marlow said. “We are now just getting back to the activity level to open that back up again.”

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