Virgin Atlantic has begun trials of rapid pre-flight Covid-19 tests for cabin crew and pilots departing Heathrow airport.

The trials are currently taking place for flights to Hong Kong and Shanghai, with plans to extend this to departures to Barbados and “select services” later this month.

Ultimately the plan is to test all operating crew at least once a month.

The trial is being carried out in partnership with GeneMe UK, official distributor of the FRANKD test, and see crew and pilots being offered a rapid Point of Care Covid-19 RT LAMP test.

The carrier said that the tests have been shown to be “100 per cent specific and 97 per cent sensitive to detecting SARS-CoV-2”, and results will be delivered to participants via and app within 30 minutes, without the need for a lab.

Virgin stressed that it would ensure its testing programme “complements NHS Lighthouse Lab-based testing and does not compete for, nor divert, vital gold standard NHS testing resources”.

The airline also said that it continues to call for UK and US governments to introduce a pre departure testing solution to remove quarantine and minimise travel restrictions.

Commenting on the news Corneel Koster, Virgin Atlantic’s chief customer and operating officer, said:

“The introduction of on site pre-flight Covid-19 testing for our crew and pilots ensures we remain at the forefront of the aviation industry’s safe return to the skies. As testing technology and Covid-19 requirements around the world develop, we want to utilise technology that is relevant, accurate and available to keep our teams and customers healthy and safe.

“ While the Covid-19 testing landscape evolves, we continue to be in discussions with multiple providers offering different technologies to guarantee the best solution possible, while absolutely ensuring that we do not compete with the NHS for vital resources.

“This trial is a first step in our phased plan to introduce regular testing for all of our teams in the air and on the ground, in order to instil confidence in flying. However, we continue to call for the swift introduction of a wider coordinated passenger testing regime.

“We need urgent action from UK and US governments to introduce pre departure testing, to remove the need for quarantine and to minimise travel restrictions, while protecting public health and half a million UK jobs associated with the sector. As long as the UK’s 14 day quarantine is in place, demand for travel will not return and the UK’s economic recovery, which relies on free flowing trade and tourism, cannot take off.”

In August Virgin Atlantic launched Covid-19 global insurance cover with Allianz Assistance, applying to all existing and new bookings, for travel from today until March 31, 2021.