IATA calls for a layered approach to temporary biosecurity measures and recommends it is adopted by governments around the world

21 May, 2020

With the Covid-19 curve now starting on the downward slope in many countries, airlines and airports are beginning to look at ways to keep passengers safe and entice them back into the air. However there are numerous health safety requirements being mandated by airlines and airports and as these are changing daily it is causing no end of confusion and uncertainty.

In order to try to streamline all these requirements and bring all airlines into agreement, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released details of its proposal for the re-starting of aviation following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Airline CEOs on the IATA Board of Governors have released a commitment which lays down five guiding principles, summarised as aviation will: always put safety and security first; respond flexibly as the crisis and science evolve; be a key driver of the economic recovery; meet its environment targets and operate to global standards which are harmonised and mutually recognised by governments.

In addition, IATA released details of a proposal for a layering of temporary biosecurity measures. The publication is entitled ‘Biosecurity for Air Transport: A Roadmap for Restarting Aviation’ with the aim to provide governments with the confidence they need to enable the re-opening of their borders and so enable passengers to get back into the air.

It is widely accepted that there is no single measure that will reduce risk and enable a safe re-start of flying. But layering measures that are globally implemented and mutually recognised by governments can achieve the needed outcome, believes IATA. “This is the greatest crisis that aviation has ever faced. A layered approach has worked with safety and with security. It’s the way forward for biosecurity as well,” says Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO.

Some of the highlights of the Roadmap include:

Pre-flight: IATA is recommending that governments will need 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 programmes.

At the departure airport, IATA is recommending several layers of protective measures:

  • Access to the terminal building should be restricted to airport/airline workers and travellers (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 sanitiser

In- flight: IATA recommends 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 toilets.
  • Enhanced and more frequent deep cleaning of the cabin

At the arrival airport: IATA recommends 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 track 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 has stressed that these measures should be temporary, regularly reviewed and then either replaced when more efficient options are identified or removed should they become unnecessary.

Specifically, IATA expressed hope that Covid-19 testing and immunity passports could become ‘game-changers’ in facilitating efficient travel until a vaccine is found. IATA says it supports testing when scaleable, 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, according to the airline body. Furthermore, IATA says it 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.

CHART – Global air capacity has collapsed as the Covid-19 pandemic has spread across the worldSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG (data: 19-May-2020)

Once again, IATA has highlighted its opposition to social distancing on board aircraft and quarantine measures on arrival. Quarantine measures, it says, “are obviated by the combination of temperature checks and contract tracing” as temperature screening reduces the risk of symptomatic passengers from travelling, while health declarations and contact tracing after arrival reduce the risk of imported cases developing into local chains of transmission.

Social distancing on board (simply leaving the middle seat open), it says, “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)”.

IATA maintains that the mutual recognition of globally agreed measures is critical for the resumption of international travel and so is recommending governments around the world to adopt this roadmap. The roadmap is also 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.

The Roadmap highlights high-level industry thinking on safely re-starting aviation. “Timing is critical,” says Mr de Juniac. “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 process may change as technology and medical science advances, but IATA’s roadmap will certainly support the reopening of air transport on a mass scale. “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,” warns Mr de Juniac.