Thursday 14 May 2020

Safety of Commercial Air Travel During the COVID-19 Outbreak

A guest post from Gates Aviation Associate John Edwards:

All international travel involves the risk of exposure to coronavirus at present. This risk can be managed in several meaningful ways but absent a vaccine, the final outcome of infection cannot.    

The manner in which COVID-19 spreads and infects people is an emerging issue. It is generally agreed that the disease can spread person-to-person through small droplets from the nose or mouth of an individual infected with COVID-19 and that coronavirus can remain intact and viable for up to 72 hours on some surfaces e.g. steel. It is unlikely to be spread through aircraft air circulation systems.

Operational recommendations for the aviation sector for implementation until the disease outbreak has been “closed”, have been provided by multiple international agencies. Sovereign States and their airports are categorised into risk levels although there are differences of opinion as to which level some States should be in. Risk level definitions vary but generally range from 1 to 3 where three recommends against all non-essential travel. A separate categorisation process is in place for State preparedness to manage the disease. These levels range from 1 (not prepared) to 5 for countries that have “more than 80% (medical response) capacity”.
Many airports are closed or have severe restrictions in place. The nature of airport design means that maintaining social distancing for staff and passengers can be problematic at best. The number of unavoidable physical ‘touch-points’ is vast and these are touched multiple times by a very wide range of passengers, airport employees and contractors. Previously acceptable airport cleaning regimes are no longer adequate. Specific types of waste must be categorised and disposed of a ‘biohazardous’.  

Airlines are similarly recommended to put special measures in place to minimise risk and protect passengers and crew to the greatest extent reasonable.   

In the same way that some aircraft operators and airports expect and implement higher standards of safety and security than others, performance differences can be anticipated in this regard too.

If a traveller develops COVID-19 symptoms whilst overseas he/she may need to be repatriated by specialist jet air ambulance. Travel on a commercial aircraft will not be an option.

All of this means that deciding whether to travel of air, where you can travel and whether it is relatively safe to do so is a complex task. Discharging corporate due diligence under these circumstances is markedly more difficult than usual.

Gates Aviation has current experience of doing exactly this and stands ready to help! 

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