The stark truth facing the aviation sector is that without international air transport, there would have been no coronavirus pandemic. The world simply cannot afford a second wave of infection and lockdowns. The aviation industry must play its part in helping to prevent the spread of the disease in future and must act now to address the risks.
Until a vaccine for coronavirus is developed and society achieves immunity, the aviation industry has a key role to play in risk mitigation through nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs).
Aviation acted as a vector for the spread of coronavirus and now needs to move from being part of the problem to becoming a key part of the solution. Current proposals from airlines, airports, and industry bodies are looking to return to "business as usual" rather than addressing the core issues.
These proposals are unlikely to provide the controls necessary. Without robust risk controls, people won't have the confidence to fly.
Mott MacDonald has combined infrastructure and health expertise to look at the principles of epidemic control in the aviation sector.
Infrastructure epidemiology sets out to fully understand each step in the journey, the associated risks, and the efficacy of interventions.
This approach is necessary for an effective industry-wide effort to reduce the overall risk of each individual flight and between flights.
Epidemiological control should center on the three means of transfer:
- Reducing proximity to infectious people, where disease is spread through microdroplet transmission in the air
- Reducing physical contact with infected people
- Ensuring the risks from fomites — handles, buttons, surfaces — are reduced through hygiene
Risk can be considered as a function of the following:
- Time spent in the facility itself
- Degree of social mixing / person-density
- Level of hygiene and sanitation
If exposure risk can be sufficiently reduced using evidence-based measures, the traveling public will be reassured that the risk of travel is no greater (or could even be lower) than performing normal daily tasks.
The new importance of "passenger touchpoints"
A review of the end-to-end passenger journey is essential to reduce the risk of infection in transit to and from the airport, between passengers, and between flights. If a touchpoint is not critical, it should be removed to allow hygiene to be focused on essentials.
Passengers should be prepared for a different travel experience as the world exits from the current lockdown. It will not be "business as usual."
The battle to minimize risk begins well before the airport front door, with passenger self-certification and remote checkin. Travelers must then be screened at entry to the airport, both arrivals and departures, and NPIs applied throughout the journey.
- Understand and quantify the risks across the journey.
- Minimize access to the system except for those who are fit to fly.
- Minimize time in the terminal.
- Minimize contact with other people, in particular passengers from other flights.
- Create an even safer working environment, with staff doing their jobs exceptionally well.
- Optimize hygiene, giving it the same importance as security
These are what we call the "brilliant basics" for getting passengers safely and efficiently into the air.
The insights, principles, and practices of infrastructure epidemiology can be applied beyond the aviation sector to control viral infection in public transport, sports, and main streets.