Airline Industry Applauds New EASA Health Guidelines

 - May 21, 2020, 9:22 AM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

Global aviation groups roundly applauded the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s new set of health guidelines for airlines and airports. The guidelines, issued late Wednesday, outline overlying principles of physical distancing, wearing medical face masks to protect other passengers, and practicing “scrupulous and frequent” hand hygiene. Separately, it noted that industry must assure air passengers and the general population that filtered air on airplanes is safer and cleaner than that on the ground. The European Commission charged EASA and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) with formulating the guidelines as part of a wider package of measures to prompt the safe restoration of transport services and connectivity.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has taken the lead in calling for a “layered approach” to establishing standard health protocols and condemning moves by states to institute 14-day quarantines for travelers entering their territories.

“The EASA and ECDC guidelines are aligned with recommendations provided by both the airline and airport sector for a layered approach of temporary measures to protect public health while allowing viable air services to help drive the European economic recovery,” said IATA in a statement. “But the guidelines will only be effective if all European states deliver harmonized implementation and mutually recognize each other’s efforts. Failure to do so would harm public confidence in the aviation system, with negative consequences for the economy, and jobs.”

The EASA and ECDC guidelines will contribute to talks held by the International Civil Aviation Organization Covid-19 Aviation Recovery Taskforce (ICAO CART), established to develop the global standards needed for the safe re-start of aviation. IATA said it continues to work with authorities and industry partners to develop common positions to assist with the CART process.

Along with practicing personal responsibility in terms of hygiene, the EASA guidelines call for passengers to provide contact information to allow for “track and trace” if someone on a particular flight later tests positive for Covid-19. Those not traveling will need to say goodbye to the passenger before they enter the terminal building, except in defined special cases. 

The guidelines also require significant changes for aircraft and airport operators. “Airplane operators and airport operators should cooperate to ensure physical distancing is respected wherever feasible, especially during check-in, security check, pre-boarding, and boarding,” said EASA. “When the recommended physical distancing of 1.5 meters is not possible, due to infrastructure or operational constraints, airplane operators and airport operators should implement the additional risk mitigation measures such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, additional transport, etc.”

Notably, the guidelines do not explicitly call for a requirement for empty middle seats, offering some of the flexibility IATA wanted in terms of physical distancing inside the aircraft. However, the guidelines do clearly call for physical distancing “wherever possible.” “In addition to the other health and hygiene measures that must be observed at all times, where allowed by the passenger load, cabin configuration and mass and balance requirements, airplane operators should ensure, to the extent possible, physical distancing among passengers,” said EASA.

The agency said it would regularly evaluate and update the recommended measures in line with changes in knowledge of the risk of transmission, development of other diagnostic or preventive measures, and the evolution of the pandemic.