Published on June 5, 2020
After an unprecedented shock, air transport sets off to take off with an anti-COVID-19 arsenal, the "key" to restarting, which will have to be harmonized worldwide to avoid a "patchwork" of measures, explains Alexandre de Juniac, director general IATA.
IATA, which brings together 290 airlines, believes that one of the keys to restarting travel is a robust passenger control process, one which restores confidence and makes it possible "to convince governments to lift border closure procedures".
On the side of the International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO, discussions are underway with Member State to try to have a convergent and harmonized approach on the control and health prevention system which will be implemented by stakeholders in the air transport sector.
IATA and ICAO building post-COVID 19airlines sanitary strategies for a safe and viable sector recovery
IATA is insisting on building post-COVID 19 airlines sanitary strategies that are both safe and that makes it possible to make operations work in an economically viable way strongly rejecting the idea of blocking seats to allow a physical distance to edge.
This would not add more safety. Besides, the economic impact would be catastrophic and prices would have to be increased by 50 to 100% which is not commercially accepted by either the airlines or the passengers.
ICAO discussions are underway with Member states to try to have a convergent and harmonized approach on the control and health prevention system which will be implemented by stakeholders in the air transport sector.
It is a question of avoiding the mixture of safety measures which had followed the attacks of September 11, in particular as regards passenger control with its consequences in terms of management of the flow of passengers on departure and arrival.
Efficient measures combined with modern Aircraft air filtration systems to create an anti-COVID barrier.
As I detailed in my last article, the measures which include among others:
Health declarations on arrival at the airport, temperature checks, wearing of a mask at the airport and on the plane, distribution of pre-packaged food to limit human contact, regular disinfection of the plane, maximum limitation of the number of cabin baggage or accelerated baggage delivery would be effective measures to limit the risk of contamination.
The sector is betting on a superimposition of measures combined with very efficient air filtration systems in aircraft to create an anti-COVID net.
As a reminder, in a note from the International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO concerning the 2003 SARS epidemic, the risk of transmission was considered "very low", with only less than five probable cases of contamination aloft around the world. In the case of SARS, ICAO spoke of a negligible risk "because the cabin air circulates transversely, which limits the projection of the droplets to only a few rows of seats, partly because modern passenger aircraft are equipped high-efficiency particle filters that remove 99.97% of all airborne particles, including bacteria and viruses.
In 2018, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta conducted a study on the risk of another passenger getting an influenza virus or respiratory infection from an airplane. The study concluded that the risk was present but limited. In this case, it became almost non-existent for a healthy passenger located more than one row or two seats sideways of a sick passenger. Or in an area of more than 1 meter. However, the risks of contamination via certain surfaces such as shelves, seat belts, and taps and openings in the sanitary facilities have been recognized.
What about WHO ?
For its part, WHO mentions minimal risks of transmitting infection on board an aircraft thanks to very good cabin ventilation allowing full air change 20 to 30 times per hour and quality particle filters similar to those used in hospitals. The risk would be limited to healthy passengers near a patient, due to sneezing and sniffling, as well as by direct contact with objects in the cabin affected by a sick passenger.
No previous crisis has been so acute
The closure of borders and movement restrictions put in place around the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus has brought air travel to a halt since March. Between 80 and 90% of the world fleet has been grounded and it is only from June 2020 that traffic will restart, first on domestic lines then continental and finally intercontinental, according to IATA which estimates that it will not return to its pre-crisis level until 2023.
So far, some companies have gone bankrupt, including the giant Virgin Australia which announced in late April to voluntarily put in default on payment. Virgin Australia which is owned by several foreign firms, including the Virgin group which holds 10% of the capital becomes the first major airline to collapse under the shock of the coronavirus epidemic.
Virgin Australia, which was already in financial trouble before the Covid-19 epidemic, suspended all international flights after Australia's decision to close its borders to non-residents to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. It only operates on an internal flight. Some 8,000 of its 10,000 employees are unemployed.
Paralyzed by the virus, if the airlines survive, it is thanks to the immediate reaction which States have shown to support, in various forms, the sector all over the world considering that it is an absolutely strategic sector.
ICAO, EASA, and ECDC: a global synergy for the sector safe recovery
The International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO adopted a series of recommendations on June 1st to revive air transport while respecting the sanitary measures necessary to prevent the transmission of the virus.
ICAO published a Good Health Practice guide on Monday, June 1st, 2020 The organization makes several proposals for a gradual and lasting recovery of the aviation sector.
These Recommendations clearly match those of The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published on May 20, 2020 States, airports, and airlines around the world are called upon to implement "globally harmonized as well as regional, consensus-building" measures. These recommendations should, therefore, serve as a “framework” for ensuring the safety of both passengers and staff, at airports, and onboard aircraft.
Sanitary measures to be applied at airports
ICAO proposes that the traveler present, upon arrival at the airport, a declaration of health, and that he/she undergoes a first temperature control. Online check-in is strongly recommended, as is the presentation of boarding passes on a mobile phone."Contactless" technologies, such as facial or eye recognition, should be more widely preferred. "This will eliminate or greatly reduce the need for contact between employees and passengers for travel documents," the agency said.Regarding access to the terminal, the ICAO recommends a limitation to travelers, their accompanying persons for the disabled for example, and staff.
Sanitary measures to be applied in aircraft
Furthermore, passengers are requested to travel as light as possible. Newspapers and magazines should be banned and duty-free sales limited. The wearing of a mask or face cover should be mandatory inside the terminal as well as onboard, or a physical distance of at least one meter.
The movement inside the aircraft during the flight should be reduced, to avoid queues to the toilets in particular. Subject to heated debates, and to a category refusal on the part of the International Air Transport Association IATA the neutralization of one seat out of two to ensure physical distance is not part of the system presented by ICAO. This practical guide, written in collaboration with airlines, the World Health Organization (WHO), and IATA, was adopted on June 1, 2020, by the ICAO Council. However, it is not mandatory.
Some airlines post COVID practices
Air France has published on its web site the list of its commitments concerning health matters: wearing a mandatory mask for everyone at the airport and on the plane;
self-service hydro-alcoholic gel;
body temperature control before boarding on each flight;
boarding handling to limit passengers crossing: passengers seated in the back will board first;
no drinks and catering service on flights of less than 2:30 hours, for longer flights, the products presented on a tray will be wrapped, filmed or sealed;
cabins cleaned and disinfected regularly with an approved long-lasting virucidal agent.
Easyjet plans measures similar to those of Air France, adding that catering and duty free will not be available and requiring its customers to register online, no documents will be manipulated by staff.
Ryanair has posted a video to encourage passengers to observe hygiene measures. It also specifies that transactions on board will always be possible, but not in cash. It will be prohibited to queue to go to the toilets on the plane.
Emirates has implemented several measures for its employees and customers at each stage of the journey "to improve the disinfection of all contact points and ensure the health and safety of customers and employees. The risk of getting an infection on board is already very weak, but the company claims to have rethought each step, from check-in to disembarkation. Each measure implemented is a further reduction of the risk. "
To protect its employees, Emirates flight and cabin crews have cars available to them to pick up and drop them off at their homes at the start and end of their service. The crew checked in for their flights at a dedicated crew facility at the airport before being transported to the aircraft.
Stopovers in destination cities have been reduced as much as possible. Back in Dubai, where all Emirates cabin crew members are based, COVID-19 tests are performed on the entire crew.
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