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Air travel records low COVID-19 infections with 44 total cases

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• Local airlines acquires ERJ-145 aircraft
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has demonstrated the low incidence of in-flight COVID-19 transmission with an updated tally of published cases.

Since the start of 2020, there have been 44 cases of COVID-19 reported in which transmission is thought to have been associated with a flight, inclusive of confirmed, probable and potential cases. Over the same period some 1.2 billion passengers have travelled.

Meanwhile, a local carrier, Air Peace, has taken delivery of a new ERJ-145 aircraft to help boost its domestic and regional operations. The aircraft, with registration number 5N-BXF, arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, at the weekend.

IATA’s Medical Advisor, Dr. David Powell, said the risk of a passenger contracting COVID-19 while onboard appears very low.

“With only 44 identified potential cases of flight-related transmission among 1.2 billion travellers, that’s one case for every 27 million travellers. We recognise that this may be an underestimate, but even if 90 per cent of the cases were un-reported, it would be one case for every 2.7 million travellers.

“We think these figures are extremely reassuring.  Furthermore, the vast majority of published cases occurred before the wearing of face coverings in-flight became widespread,” Powell said.

New insight into why the numbers are so low has come from the joint publication by Airbus, Boeing, and Embraer of separate computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research conducted by each manufacturer in their aircraft.

While methodologies differed slightly, each detailed simulation confirmed that aircraft airflow systems did control the movement of particles in the cabin, limiting the spread of viruses. Data from the simulations yielded similar results.

Aircraft airflow systems, high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, the natural barrier of the seatback, the downward flow of air, and high rates of air exchange efficiently reduce the risk of disease transmission on board in normal times.

The addition of mask-wearing amid pandemic concerns adds a further and significant extra layer of protection, which makes being seated in close proximity in an aircraft cabin safer than most other indoor environments.

IATA’s data collection and the results of the separate simulations, align with the low numbers reported in a recently-published peer-reviewed study by Freedman and Wilder-Smith in the Journal of Travel Medicine.

Although there is no way to establish an exact tally of possible flight-associated cases, IATA’s outreach to airlines and public health authorities combined with a thorough review of available literature has not yielded any indication that onboard transmission is in any way common or widespread. Further, the Freedman/Wilder-Smith study points to the efficacy of mask-wearing in further reducing risk.

Mask-wearing on board was recommended by IATA in June and is a common requirement on most airlines since the subsequent publication and implementation of the Takeoff Guidance by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). This guidance adds multiple layers of protection on top of the airflow systems which already ensure a safe cabin environment with very low risks of in-flight transmission of disease.

“ICAO’s comprehensive guidance for safe air travel amid the COVID-19 crisis relies on multiple layers of protection, which involve the airports as well as the aircraft. Mask-wearing is one of the most visible. But managed queuing, contactless processing, reduced movement in the cabin, and simplified onboard services are among the multiple measures the aviation industry is taking to keep flying safe.

“And this is on top of the fact that airflow systems are designed to avoid the spread of disease with high air flow rates and air exchange rates, and highly effective filtration of any recycled air,” Powell said.

Meanwhile, Spokesperson for Air Peace, Stanley Olisa, said the new arrival is a 50-seater aircraft, and the eighth of the model type.

Olisa reiterated the airline’s commitment to ease the burden of travel in Nigeria and beyond.

“Air Peace now boasts of 26 aircraft in its fleet. We’re also gearing up to receive two brand new 124-seat capacity Embraer 195-E2 Jets this October, the first set of the 13 we had ordered, with purchase rights for 17 more,” he said.

Olisa, who affirmed Air Peace’s ambition to interconnect various cities in Nigeria, added that the flying public should expect more domestic and international routes to be launched, like Johannesburg, London, Houston, Guangzhou, Mumbai, and other planned destinations.


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