The skies may not be as busy, but Scoot's still on the go
Local airline using downtime to ship cargo and upgrade software and hardware
Piloting a flight from Singapore to Wuhan on Jan 29 this year just after the Chinese city went into lockdown was a surreal experience for Captain Ian Cheng.
For the first time in his 25 years of flying, once busy skies were quiet and the usual chatter over the radio with air traffic control was missing.
The senior vice-president of flight operations for Scoot told The New Paper last month: "When we landed in Wuhan, the airport was almost deserted. The only area that was lit was where the passengers disembarked.
"That was when it hit me that we were really in something unprecedented."
While Covid-19 has grounded much of the budget carrier's fleet, its pilots and planes have not been idle.
Scoot, the low-cost arm of national carrier Singapore Airlines, turned to cargo charters after passenger flights came to a near standstill in March.
It got approval to ship cargo such as personal protective equipment on its passenger aircraft, and even converted two of its Airbus A320s into "mini-freighters" by stripping the passenger seats.
Scoot's pilots have been able to fly an average of twice a month, and they make up for the drastic reduction in flight time with simulator training.
The airline has also developed an app to help them with pre-flight preparations.
Captain Cheng, 50, said: "Low flying doesn't mean there are no incidents. We reinforce to the pilots that they must put in safeguards and make sure they look out for all potential risks and threats when operating in this kind of environment."
Scoot's vice-president of engineering Gary Ong, 44, has been kept busy.
Aircraft on the ground have to be continually maintained - whether that means being taken for a "walk" every week or so to exercise the hydraulics, or two-hour functional check flights to ensure radar systems and flight controls are working well.
Singapore's humid weather also presents a challenge.
A large amount of silica gel and other drying agents are needed to keep moisture out of the cabin and the engines, so as to minimise corrosion or mould.
Sensors and probes also need to be well covered so insects and other foreign material do not get in and affect their readings or damage them.
Mr Ong said Scoot has used the downtime to accelerate some of its modification and reliability improvement programmes, such as updating the aircraft software and sending engines into the shop for refurbishment and upgrades.
He said: "The first few weeks after we started grounding our planes, coming to the airport and seeing all of them sitting there was heartrending.
"It took me a while to realise my focus had to shift."
"Going forward, we do see some light at the end of the tunnel. It will be a challenge for me to get all the aircraft flying again, but I am ready to take it on."