Here, one of our MAF PNG pilots shares some of the current challenges his family is facing in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic using some risk assessment tools he normally use to operate and fly safely:

It has been a couple years since I attended MAF’s Line Pilot Standardisation course, which is a mandatory training session for everybody who flies for MAF anywhere in the world. I was thinking this morning how so many of the tools we learn can be applied to the COVID-19 scenario that is playing out. Here is what I’ve come up with:

Tool #1 S-O-M

This is the baseline: Safety – Option – Margin. Basically, it is a screening tool for everything. The first question is “Is this safe?” If it isn’t, you shouldn’t do it. Then, you need to determine what options you have if the situation changes. If valley A closes due weather, do I have valley B to get out? And thirdly, margin. Do I need 100% of the runway to land safely? If I need to climb above weather, will I reach the limit of my plane’s climb capability? MAF starts at 100% margin. So…if my plane needs a turning radius of 750 meters, I had better not find myself with less that 1500 meters available.
If I can satisfy each of these conditions, I should be fine to continue with what I’m doing. If I accept a degradation in one, the other two must be satisfied completely.
So, applied to the current situation our family is: We are not in our program country. As it happened we left basically hours before the world locked its doors. We are in a stable and comfortable place in the world.

SAFE – Yes! 

We are in a safe place. We have a fridge full of food. We have people we can call, and who call us to check on us, and nobody is sick. We have phones and great internet, communication is intact.

OPTIONS – Some. 

We have a small window to return to our passport country, but we don’t need to. We can stay put where we are. We have funds to access housing and transportation if necessary.


We are not elderly. We don’t have pre-existing medical conditions, especially not with our lungs. Our kids are healthy. We have capacity to understand and implement the recommendations of health experts. IF we were to catch this virus, the math says that we have a statistical probability of survival.

Tool #2 T-W-O-P-P

This is another acronym and it stands for Terrain-Weather-Operations-People-Plan. It is used for identifying risks. So, applied today:

Terrain – We are in a non COVID-19 hotspot today. Also, we limit touching any public surface, and are diligent in hand-washing, specially if we touch public “terrain.”

Weather – The air we breathe, we keep it clean via social distancing, masks would be available if this risk increased.

Operations – Movements are restricted, mostly by the authorities. Things we want to do aren’t available (playgrounds, restaurants). We can go grocery shopping (risk increase, but acceptable) and we have been going to isolated parts of local beaches (COVID-19 risk minimal, the ocean is higher risk).

People – Monitor for illness. Recent travel. Boredom, anxiety and frustration higher risk right now. Prescription meds are on hand (and available).

Plan – Hard to plan with constant changes to the rules. A plan to fly across the ocean would be the highest risk move we could make. Shelter in place, accept support from MAF as available, maintain health and mental wellbeing.

This past week has for us, and the world, been very hard, very stressful. Maybe flying an airplane around the highlands in Papua New Guinea is much easier than this…