Etihad Airways is to trial new airport technology designed “to help identify medically at-risk travellers”, potentially including those with those with the early stages of Covid-19.

Developed by Australian company Elenium Automation, the contactless technology can monitor the temperature, heart and respiratory rate of any person using an airport touchpoint, such as a check-in or information kiosks, bag drop facilities, security points or immigration gates.

Passengers whose vital signs indicate potential symptoms of illness will be diverted “to a teleconference or alert qualified staff on site, who can make further assessments and manage travellers as appropriate”.

Etihad will be the first airline to trial the technology from the end of this month. Initially this will be carried out with volunteers, followed by outbound passengers as flights resume.

Elenium Automation says it has lodged patents for both the automatic detection of illness symptoms at an aviation self-service touchpoint, and additionally for touchless self-service technology at an airport, which it says combined “would ensure health screenings can become standard across airports, without putting staff in harm with manual processes”.

“The system would screen every individual, including multiple people on the same booking,” said Aaron Hornlimann, CEO and co-founder of Elenium Automation.

“The technology can also be retrofitted into any airport kiosk or bag drop or installed as a desktop system at a passenger processing point such as an immigration desk. We believe the introduction of touchless self-service and automated health screening will encourage passengers to return to travel sooner.”

Meanwhile Jorg Oppermann, vice president hub and midfield operations, Etihad Airways, said:

“This technology is not designed or intended to diagnose medical conditions. It is an early warning indicator which will help to identify people with general symptoms, so that they can be further assessed by medical experts, potentially preventing the spread of some conditions to others preparing to board flights to multiple destinations.

“It has long been the case that aircraft, with their highly sophisticated air-recycling systems and standards of hygiene are not the transmission vehicle for illnesses. We are testing this technology because we believe it will not only help in the current COVID-19 outbreak, but also into the future, with assessing a passenger’s suitability to travel and thus minimising disruptions.

“At Etihad we see this is another step towards ensuring that future viral outbreaks do not have the same devastating effect on the global aviation industry as is currently the case.”

Airlines worldwide have been implementing enhanced measures to protect both passengers and staff from coronavirus – last month Business Traveller reported that Emirates was carrying out “the complete disinfection of all cabins” on all aircraft departing Dubai.

Coronavirus: Emirates implements “complete disinfection of all cabins”