As the aviation industry is gearing up to take to the sky again, and the global community is also in feverish pitch to return to travelling by air, all the stakeholders in the aviation supply chain and the consumers of the diverse services the industry offer, have been assured of zero probability of infection as COVID-19 threat is being expunged in all of the layers in air transport
The Director-General/Chief Executive Officer, International Air Transport Association, IATA, Alexandre de Juniac, made the assertion while reeling out results of survey and investigations the global body conducted as a means to help the association put in perspective the rate of spread of the dreaded COVID-19 by circumstances around any of the stages in air transport.
Alexandre de Juniac said, for IATA “The safety of passengers and crew is paramount. The aviation industry is working with governments to re-start flying when this can be done safely”.
He volunteered results of investigations conducted by IATA and said, “evidence suggests that the risk of transmission of the virus onboard aircraft is low. And we will take measures—such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by the crew—to add extra layers of protection”.
Juniac said IATA must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. While one without the other will have no lasting benefit.”
Among other temporary biosecurity measures IATA is recommending for adoption in addition to face coverings, include:
• Temperature screening of passengers, airport workers and travellers,
• Boarding and deplaning processes that reduce contact with other passengers or crew,
• Limiting movement within the cabin during flight,
• More frequent and deeper cabin cleaning,
• Simplified catering procedures that lower crew movement and interaction with passengers.
When proven and available at scale, testing for COVID-19 or immunity passports could also be included as temporary biosecurity measures, he said.
RESULTS OF SURVEY ON TRANSMISSION; although there are no instances of the passenger to passenger transmission.
IATA helmsman, de Juniac, further gave details of the association’s findings as follow;
Contact tracing for a flight from China to Canada with asymptomatic COVID-19 passenger revealed no onboard transmission
• Contact tracing for a flight between China and the US with 12 symptomatic COVID-19 passengers revealed no onboard transmission
Communication with IATA member airlines indicated similar results:
*An IATA informal survey of 18 major airlines identified, during January-March 2020, just three episodes of suspected in-flight transmission of COVID-19, all from passengers to crew.
*A further four episodes were reports of apparent transmission from pilot to pilot, which could have been in-flight or before/after (including layover). There were no instances of suspected passenger-to-passenger transmission.
*A more detailed IATA examination of contact tracing of 1,100 passengers (also during the January to March 2020 period) who were confirmed for COVID-19 after air travel revealed no secondary transmission among the more than 100,000 passengers in the same flights. Just two possible cases were found among crew members.
There are several plausible reasons why COVID-19, which is spread primarily by respiratory droplets, has not resulted in more on-board transmission, and why air travel is different from other modes of public transport:
• Passengers face forward with limited face-to-face interactions
• Seats provide a barrier to transmission forward or at the rear in the cabin
• Airflow from ceiling to floor further reduces the potential for transmission forward or aft in the cabin, moreover, airflow rates are high and not conducive to droplet spread in the same way as in other indoor environments.
• High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters on modern aircraft clean cabin air to hospital operating theatre-quality, further assisted by high levels of fresh air circulation
Moreover, even if mandated, keeping the ‘middle seat’ open will not achieve the recommended separation for social distancing to be effective. Most authorities recommend 1m-2m while the average seat width is less than 50 cm., said Juniac.
He explained, “The cabin environment naturally makes transmission of viruses difficult for a variety of reasons. That helps explain why we have seen the little occurrence of onboard transmission. In the immediate term, our aim is to make the cabin environment even safer with effective measures so that passengers and crew can return to travel with confidence.
de Juniac noted that “Screening, face coverings and masks are among the many layers of measures that we are recommending. Leaving the middle seat empty, however, is not,”
He averred that evidence, although limited, suggests that the risk of virus transmission onboard aircraft is low even without special measures