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World airlines issue safety guidelines for restart

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*Regulators, local carriers meet, review operations

World airlines have proposed new safety guidelines to governments toward re-starting passenger flights amid the coronavirus crisis.The airlines, under the aegis of International Air Transport Association (IATA), Wednesday, said the aviation-friendly guidelines aim to provide the confidence that governments would need to enable the re-opening of borders to passenger travel, and the confidence that travellers would need to return to flying.

Similarly, aviation regulatory bodies and airlines in Nigeria, are already meeting to review the level of preparedness towards possible resumption of air travel business once the current four weeks restriction ends.

The regulators, like the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), are looking at the various strategies put in place by airlines, service providers and other airport users to show that they would comply with rules that will guarantee containment of COVID-19 before the aviation regulatory body issues a post-COVID-19 travel guideline for air travellers.

Among the pre-flight guidelines proposed by IATA is the need for governments 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.

The global airlines support 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.

Also, they 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.

However, they reiterated opposition to social distancing on board aircraft and quarantine measures on arrival. IATA’s Director-General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said there is no single measure that would reduce risks 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. 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,” de Juniac said.

At the departure airport, IATA foresees several layers of protective measures. These include access to the terminal building should be restricted to airport/airline workers and travelers (with exceptions being made for those accompanying passengers with disabilities or unaccompanied minors).

Also, 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 or 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.

In-flight, IATA foresees several layers of protective measures like 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 washrooms.

At the arrival airport, IATA envisages several layers of protective measures like 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 already have proven track record by some governments. Accelerated processing and baggage reclaim to enable social distancing by reducing congestion and queuing, and health declarations and robust contact tracing are expected to be undertaken by governments to reduce the risk of imported chains of transmission.

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 the hope in two areas which could be ‘game-changers’ in facilitating efficient travel until a vaccine is found:
De Juniac said the roadmap was the industry’s high-level thinking on safely re-starting aviation.

However, “Timing is critical. 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 will change as technology and medical science advances. 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,” he said.


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