The aviation sector has been one of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and remobilisation will require a collective effort. Andrew Buroni, Technical Director for Health, explains how each component is critical, inter-related and ultimately only as strong as its weakest link.
Civil aviation is a modern technological and engineering marvel that has opened the world to the masses, facilitated the sharing of cultural values and broadened the minds and aspirations of current and future generations.
However, increasing the ability, range, speed and affordability for global travel inevitably increases the risk of coming into contact with and conveying infectious agents. This is not a new hazard; one solely associated with civil aviation; or even currently unaddressed either in the aviation industry or by international health legislation. However the transmission rate and severity of COVID-19 has shown the need for coordinated fundamental change.
COVID-19 represents a public health emergency that the civil aviation sector will have to adapt and respond to - both immediately and in the long-term - considering design, modified operations, retail facilities and most importantly travel behaviour.
Each component is critical, inter-related and ultimately only as strong as its weakest link.
This could consider:
These features are already being integrated at several airports and would only require minor adaptations to improve flexibility for the particular transmission risk of COVID-19, as well as future hazards that may differ.
These fundamentally relate to managing the flow and interaction of people as effectively and with as little social mixing as possible through adaptable, pragmatic measures. Many airports will be able to build on practices already applied to respond to the particular COVID-19 risk.
These should include:
Airside retail is comparable to a contained shopping centre and in many cases the airport layout is designed to funnel passengers through outlets. In response to the particular transmission risk of COVID-19 all retail and refreshment areas will need to:
Some retail outlets may not be able to trade as normal under this guidance, and in the short term, these retail areas may better serve to facilitate social distancing and / or provide travel focussed PPE (both en route, at destination and for return).
More health-conscious travel behaviour is potentially the most effective means to managing communicable diseases. The benefits of this extend to well before arriving at the airport and can continue en route as well as at their destination. Unfortunately, it’s also the area the commercial aviation industry has the least direct control over.
Despite this the industry can still play a key role in influencing more health-conscious travel behaviour through cooperation with travel firms, insurance providers and international travel guidance.
Passenger safety has and always will be a central component to the industry. However, to adapt to a post-COVID-19 world, there is more airports will need to do to: further embed national health surveillance into operations between destinations; manage potential airside and in-flight risk; and raise passenger awareness to facilitate more health conscious travel behaviour.
We are on hand to offer pragmatic guidance and share emerging health evidence to inform future planning, operations and emergency response. Our Health experts can facilitate more health conscious planning and decision making by investigating and assessing health protection, promotion and health care.
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