The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the industry lobbying group, says that governments must work together to “avoid the mess that followed 9/11 when governments acted unilaterally.”
Speaking yesterday, IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said that it “created confusion for airlines and travellers alike. And it took many years to clean-up.”
“We have a small window to avoid these mistakes with COVID-19 by agreeing global standards for a re-start. In doing so, we must build-in measures for continuous review so that we can streamline the system as science and technology evolve”.
De Juniac said there was “reason to be optimistic” and identified an initiative of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) called the COVID-19 Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART).
He also outlined IATA’s own proposed “temporary layered approach to biosecurity for re-starting passenger flights” which it has published as Biosecurity for Air Transport: A Roadmap for Restarting Aviation.
De Juniac says that the Roadmap aims to provide the confidence that governments will need to enable the re-opening of borders to passenger travel; and the confidence that travellers will need to return to flying.
“There is no single measure that will reduce risk and enable a safe re-start of flying. But a layering measures that are globally implemented and mutually recognised by governments can achieve the needed outcome. This is the greatest crisis that aviation has ever faced,” said de Juniac.
Highlights of the Roadmap include:
Pre-flight, IATA foresees the need for governments to collect passenger data in advance of travel, including health information, which should be accomplished using well-tested channels such as those used for eVisa or electronic travel authorisation programs.
At the departure airport, IATA foresees several layers of protective measures:
- Access to the terminal building should be restricted to airport / airline workers and travelers (with exceptions being made for those accompanying passengers with disabilities or unaccompanied minors)
- Temperature screening by trained government staff at entry points to the terminal building
- Physical distancing through all passenger processes, including queue management
- Use of face coverings for passengers and masks for staff in line with local regulations.
- Self-service options for check-in used by passengers as much as possible to reduce contact points and queues. This includes remote check-in (electronic / home printed boarding passes), automated bag drops (with home printed bag tags) and self-boarding.
- Boarding should be made as efficient as possible with re-designed gate areas, congestion-reducing boarding priorities, and hand luggage limitations.
- Cleaning and sanitisation of high touch areas in line with local regulations. This includes wide availability of hand sanitisers.
In-flight, IATA foresees several layers of protective measures:
- Face coverings required for all passengers and non-surgical masks for crew
- Simplified cabin service and pre-packaged catering to reduce interaction between passengers and crew
- Reduced congregation of passengers in the cabin, for example by prohibiting queues for washrooms.
- Enhanced and more frequent deep cleaning of the cabin
At the arrival airport, IATA foresees several layers of protective measures:
- Temperature screening by trained government staff if required by authorities
- Automated procedures for customs and border control including use of mobile applications and biometric technologies (which have already proven tack record by some governments)
- Accelerated processing and baggage reclaim to enable social distancing by reducing congestion and queuing
- Health declarations and robust contact tracing are expected to be undertaken by governments to reduce the risk of imported chains of transmission
IATA stressed that these measures should be temporary, regularly reviewed, replaced when more efficient options are identified or removed should they become unnecessary. Specifically, IATA expressed hope in two areas which could be ‘game-changers’ in facilitating efficient travel until a vaccine is found:
COVID-19 testing: IATA supports testing when scalable, accurate and fast results are available. Testing at the start of the travel process would create a ‘sterile’ travel environment that would reassure travellers and governments.
Immunity passports: IATA would support the development of immunity passports to segregate no-risk travellers, at a time when these are backed by medical science and recognised by governments.
IATA reiterated its opposition to social distancing on board aircraft and quarantine measures on arrival:
- Quarantine measures are obviated by the combination of temperature checks and contract tracing. Temperature screening reduces the risk of symptomatic passengers from traveling, while health declarations and contact tracing after arrival reduce the risk of imported cases developing into local chains of transmission.
- Social distancing on board (leaving the middle seat open) is obviated by the wearing of face coverings by all on board on top of transmission reducing characteristics of the cabin (everybody is front facing, air flow is from ceiling to floor, seats provide a barrier to forward/aft transmission, and air filtration systems that operate to hospital operating theatre standards).
“The Roadmap is the industry’s high-level thinking on safely re-starting aviation. Timing is critical. Governments understand the importance of aviation to the social and economic recovery of their countries and many are planning a phased re-opening of borders in the coming months. We have a short time to reach agreement on the initial standards to support safely reconnecting the world and to firmly establish that global standards are essential to success. This will change as technology and medical science advances. The vital element is coordination. If we don’t take these first steps in a harmonised way, we will spend many painful years recovering ground that should not have been lost,” said de Juniac.
“If we are successful in a smooth re-start for aviation that will pay big benefits in solving the economic dimension of the COVID-19 challenge. The shape and size of the industry may change as a result of this crisis. But aviation will remain a critical support for vast sectors of the economy. The sooner we can safely reconnect the world, the more jobs can be saved. And, combined with economic stimulus packages, a reconnected world will be a solid foundation for economic recovery”.