A4E welcomes the “Joint European Roadmap towards lifting COVID-19 containment measures”, adopted on 15 April by the European Commission and Council.
A4E understands that more detailed principles and guidelines for a return to normal operations — driven by DG MOVE and DG SANTE — will be published and supplemented with guidance material in the coming days and weeks and A4E remains committed and available to actively participate in the development of such material.
Our goal must be to restore air connectivity in Europe and safeguard the health of our passengers, crew and staff and without unnecessary legal, regulatory or operational requirements.
This will only be possible if:
- Additional measures to protect health are based on scientific evidence supported by robust risk assessments, are proportionate, temporary in nature (clearly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic) and evaluated on a continuous basis; and
- Measures, responsibilities and processes are coordinated at a European level, as a minimum, but optimally at a global level — are unambiguous and clear on accountability.
1. Cooperation and coordination between Member States, the EU and industry representatives is essential.
At a European level, the work of DG SANTE and ECDC remains central. It is essential that measures are, insofar as possible, coordinated and agreed at an EU, Member State and industry level. This will be facilitated through robust consultation with clarity of all associated risks associated with COVID-19.
2. Harmonisation of measures to ensure mutual recognition at least at a European level, if not global.
Learning from the actions taken at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, we must avoid any repetition of the uncoordinated and conflicting national and EU agency-driven measures.
Exiting the COVID-19 pandemic requires a common global response following international standards defined by credible sources, e.g. the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). These standards need to be adapted and put into place quickly to enable aviation’s gradual return to normal operations and to avoid any national divergences. The resulting risk-based, proportionate and effective measures should be agreed at an EU level. The European Commission must play a central role in this process.
3. Measures must be proportionate and effective.
Measures must be based on scientific evidence and a robust risk assessment. They must also be proportionate, temporary in nature and clearly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Measures must be evaluated on a continuous basis through a robust and agile review process to ensure continued effectiveness in reducing the risk of virus transmission — and the proportionality of risk level vs. implemented measures.
In line with aviation security methodology, our goal must be to identify and address a potential risk of transmission as early as possible in the aviation transportation journey. COVID-19 controls must take place when passengers arrive at their departure airport to reduce the transmission risk both at the departure and arrival airports and onboard the aircraft. National authorities would need to be accountable for this. COVID-19 checks should use the best available health checks — today these are temperature checks. This process also requires passengers to play their part and follow the recommendations given by authorities, i.e. to wear their own face mask/covering throughout their journey.
The use of passenger data, for instance based on Passenger Name Records (PNR) or via specific apps, will also enable health authorities to identify passengers efficiently and interrupt infection chains. A4E airlines call for global coordination and harmonisation on contact-tracing apps and processes, in order to establish compatible, risk-based and time-limited procedures.
4. Social distancing throughout the customer journey is unnecessary and ineffective.
The objective of industry partners is to support a return to normal operations as quickly and safely as possible, with practical changes in established procedures following the recommendations of public health authorities, to ensure passengers’ safety.
Air travel remains one of the safest modes of transport during a public health crisis, with a very low risk of virus transmission onboard. The majority of commercial aircraft are equipped with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which were also in use during the SARS epidemic. These advanced filters continuously clean the air onboard, which is then replaced on average every three minutes.
As a result, the air in the cabin is comparable with the sterile environment of a hospital operating theatre. Research by leading national and European research institutesEuropean Centres for Disease Control; Robert Koch institute (Germany) — Risk assessment guidelines for infectious diseases transmitted on aircraft (RAGIDA) and https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/InfAZ/N/Neuartiges_Coronavirus/Kontaktperson/Management_Download.pd%20f?__blob=publicationFile as well as IATAhttps://www.iata.org/en/pressroom/pr/2020-05-05-01/and https://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/192/15/E410.full.pdf confirms that there is little evidence supporting passenger-to-passenger transmission of the COVID-19 virus onboard an aircraft — even without additional protective measures in place.
We recommend that passengers bring and wear their own face masks throughout the journey, to protect other passengers and reduce this risk even further.
The environment onboard an aircraft is very different from other forms of mass transport as a result of the environmental control systems. Consequently, physical separation on planes — including leaving middle seats free — is unnecessary and ineffective.
Public Awareness Campaign
A4E supports a dedicated EU programme to help rebuild passenger confidence in air travel as a safe way to travel during COVID-19, sharing the progressive actions taken by EASA, DG MOVE and industry. This campaign should start as soon as possible, and we believe it will be essential to the recovery of our industry.
Intending passengers must be made aware of additional measures expected of them prior to entering the airport and while at the airport and onboard the aircraft. In addition, they must be provided with clear guidelines on the criteria for travel and the fact that airlines have no responsibility for passengers who cannot travel or are refused entry due to not meeting any health or other nationally-mandated requirements.
Airlines, as well as airports, can assist with the dissemination of relevant passenger information (as agreed at an EU level) during the online booking and check-in process or via prominent displays across the airport.
Our common goal must be to restore affordable air connectivity in Europe as soon as possible. To achieve this, we need proportionate, sensible and effective measures which are coordinated at EU level.
Measures must be based on scientific evidence and robust risk assessment, they must be proportionate, temporary in nature (clearly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic) and evaluated on a continuous basis.
The objective of industry partners is to support a return to normal operations in the most efficient and safe way possible — including through the responsible behaviour of our customers. Proportionate and effective measures (e.g. temperature controls and passengers wearing their own face mask/covering) are necessary to reduce the risk of virus transmission at airports and onboard the aircraft.
Physical separation on planes is unnecessary and ineffective given the combination of airline measures in place, i.e. advanced air filtration and clean cabin environment together with responsible passenger behaviour (wearing of face masks throughout the journey).