IATA unveils biosecurity approach to restart aviation

Muscat: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has revealed its proposed temporary layered approach to biosecurity for re-starting passenger flights amid the Covid-19 crisis.

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 travelers 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 recognized by governments can achieve the needed outcome. This is the greatest crisis that aviation has ever faced. A layered approach has worked with safety and security. It’s the way forward for biosecurity as well,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Highlights of the Roadmap include:

Temporary biosecurity measures: The need to collect more detailed passenger contact information that can be used for tracing purposes. Where possible, the data should be collected in electronic form, and in advance of the passenger arriving at the airport including through eVisa and electronic travel authorization platforms.

IATA strongly recommends that states set up government internet portals to collect the required passenger data. Using internet-based technology would allow the use of a wide range of devices for data capture (computers, laptops,
tablets, mobile phones, etc.).

Departure airport Airport terminal access should be restricted to workers, travelers, and accompanying persons in situations such as for passengers with disabilities, reduced mobility, or unaccompanied minors.

Temperature screening should be implemented at entry points to the terminal building and be as efficient as possible. The screening needs to be carried out by professionally trained staff who can decide if a passenger is fit to fly or not. In addition, the screening staff needs to have all the required equipment at their disposal.

Physical distancing needs to be implemented according to the local rules and regulations. As a minimum, IATA recommends ranges from 1-2 meters (3-6 feet). In conjunction with the local airport authority, the passenger flow through the
terminal – check-in, immigration, security, departure lounge, and boarding – needs to be modified to ensure physical distancing.

Use of masks and PPE: Guidance of the local health authorities needs to be followed. IATA, however, recommends the use of face coverings for passengers along with suitable PPE for airline and airport staff.

Cleaning and sanitizing of equipment: In observance of local rules and regulations, airlines, airports, and governments need to cooperate to ensure that equipment and infrastructures are sanitized and hydro alcoholic gel is easily made available. The frequency of the sanitizing should be established, communicated, and appropriate resources need to be put in place to enforce it. This applies to such items as carts, trolleys, e-gates, self-service kiosks, fingerprint readers, wheelchairs, trays, used medical masks disposal containers, onboard equipment, etc.

Covid-19 testing: The industry supports the use of testing. However, indications from the medical community are that reliable testing with fast results is not yet available. An effective test that could be applied to entry to the terminal would enable the airport environment to be considered as ‘sterile’.

Since the medical evidence regarding immunity from Covid-19 is still inconclusive, so immunity passports are not currently supported. At such time as the medical evidence supports the possibility of an immunity passport, we believe it is essential that a recognized global standard be introduced, and that corresponding documents be made available electronically.

Check-in: To minimize the time spent at an airport, passengers should complete as much of the check-in process as possible before arriving at the airport. Therefore, IATA suggests that governments should remove any regulatory obstacles to enabling such things as mobile or home-printed boarding passes and electronic or
home-printed bag tags and personal data capture online. Physical distancing should be implemented both at counters and self-service kiosks.

At airports, self-service options should be made available and utilized as much as possible to limit contact at all passenger touchpoints. A general move towards greater use of touchless technology and biometrics should also be pursued.

Self-Bag drop: Where baggage self-service devices are in use, airlines should proactively guide passengers to self-bag drop options to minimize the interactions (physical handover of baggage) between passengers and check-in agents.

Boarding: An orderly boarding process will be necessary to ensure physical distancing, especially once load factors start increasing. Here good cooperation between the airline, airport, and the government is vital. Airlines will need to revise their current boarding process to ensure physical distancing. Airports will need to assist in redesigning gate areas and governments will need to adapt any applicable local rules and regulations. The increased use of automation, such as self-scanning and biometrics should be facilitated.

Especially during the early stages of the restart phase, carry-on baggage should be limited to facilitate a smooth boarding process with physical distancing.

Inflight: Based on the information we have analyzed, the risk of transmission of C-19 from one passenger to another passenger onboard is very low. Possible reasons are that customers sit facing forward and not toward each other, seatbacks provide a barrier, the use of HEPA filters and the direction of the airflow on board (from ceiling to floor), and the limited movement onboard aircraft once seated add to the
onboard protection.

As an added protection against possible in-flight transmission, IATA recommends the use of face coverings by travellers in situations where physical distancing
cannot be maintained, including in flight. In this regard, it should not be assumed that physical distancing on board (e.g. through blocked seats) would be necessary.

Comprehensive guidelines have been developed for cabin crew that includes the management of a suspected case of communicable disease on board, for which WHO also has aligned guidance. This includes advice for simplified service and prepackaged catering. For added passenger comfort, sanitization wipes
could be provided to customers to clean the spaces around them, and implement procedures to limit movement onboard.

Arrival process: Current temperature screening methods may not provide sufficient confidence at present. If required, non-intrusive mass
temperature screening equipment needs to be used and the screening should be conducted with appropriate social distancing and as efficiently as possible by appropriately trained staff who can safely deal with the possibility of an ill passenger.

For customs formalities, where possible green/red lanes for self-declarations are recommended. Appropriate sanitary measures must be taken at secondary screening points to protect passengers and staff.

It is suggested that governments should simplify border control formalities, by enabling contactless processes (e.g. reading of passport chips, facial recognition, etc.), setting up special lanes, and training their agents to detect signs of unwell

A possible redesign of immigration halls needs to be coordinated between the airport, airlines, and the government.

All efforts need to be made to provide a speedy baggage claim and ensure that passengers are not made to wait for excessive amounts of time in the baggage claim area. For example, all available belts should be made use of, in order to allow physical distancing.

It will also be important that governments ensure that the customs clearance process is as speedy as possible and that appropriate measures are taken in case of physical baggage inspections to ensure physical distancing.

Security and health screening for transferring passengers should take maximum advantage of “one stop-security arrangement”.

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 travelers and governments.

Immunity passports: IATA would support the development of immunity passports to segregate no-risk travelers, at a time when these are backed by medical science and recognized by governments.

IATA reiterated its opposition to social distancing onboard 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, airflow is from ceiling to floor, seats provide a barrier to forward/aft transmission, and air filtration systems that operate to hospital operating theatre standards).

As the mutual recognition of globally agreed measures is critical for the resumption of international travel. IATA said it is reaching out to governments with the Roadmap. This engagement is in support of the COVID-19 Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) which is tasked with developing the global standards needed for the safe re-start of aviation.