Airports Council International (ACI World) has warned that physical distancing at airports could severely restrict capacity as passenger traffic starts to grow.

Current demand means that social distancing is possible at most airports without having to place limits on numbers, but the organisation said simulations show that distancing could reduce capacity by up to 75 per cent as traffic increases.

The council warned that “Physical distancing has proven to be a good mitigation measure against the spread of the virus but once passenger traffic increases, this will not be viable or sustainable long term, if airports are to keep operations running efficiently”.

Several scenarios were run through to test the need for increased space for physical distancing in airport queues, with the results suggesting that checkpoint capacity could be reduced by between 50 and 75 per cent.

ACI World has worked with EBEA Consulting and Transoft solutions to design 11 alternative measures to physical distancing, which it says would “keep passengers and staff safe while, at the same time, keeping checkpoints moving when passenger traffic inevitably increases”.

Among the measures listed (several of which are already in place at some or all airports) are pre-travel testing, crowd monitoring software, the installation of plexiglass barriers, the use of face masks, and “continuous tray or UVC cleaning and high touchpoint cleaning”.

ACI World is holding a webinar on “The impact of physical distancing on airport security checkpoints” on October 22 – interested parties can register here.

Commenting on the news ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira, said:

“Airports are examining all aspects of their operations as they seek to recover from the impact of Covid-19, foster confidence in air travel, and reassure passengers that health and safety is the number one priority.

“These simulations and resulting suggested mitigation measures encourage regulators and airports to plan ahead to facilitate an increase in passenger numbers, without having to compromise on health and safety.”

“Alternative measures proposed to physical distancing will still achieve the same outcome, where passenger and staff members remain well protected, while reducing the impact of delays on airport operations.

“By adopting measures that are aligned with other industries, airports can demonstrate that they are following best practices and the World Health Organization guidance, and in so doing, can help increase passenger confidence.”