“The stark truth facing the aviation sector is that without international air transport, there would have been no coronavirus pandemic.” Strong words from global engineering, management and development consultancy, Mott MacDonald. Quite rightly though aviation was a significant vector for Covid-19’s spread around the world and has certainly turned what initially appeared to be a localised Chinese situation into a global healthcare crisis.
With little still known about this killer virus and with a lengthy time until any vaccine comes widespread there are deep concerns over future waves of infections, future coronavirus spreads and of course further lockdowns that will cause added human and economic pain to those countries worse hit. As such, Mott MacDonald says the aviation industry must play its part in preventing the spread of the disease in future and 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 non pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs),” it says in a website post, ‘Aviation and Covid-19: stop the spread, open the gateways’ attributed to its aviation sector leader Chris Chalk and health specialist Dr Toby Leslie. “It acted as a vector for the spread of coronavirus and now needs to move from being part of the problem to become a key part of the solution,” it explains.
For that to be achieved the consultancy says the airlines, airports and industry bodies must forget about looking to return to ‘business as usual’ which is unlikely to provide the controls necessary to stop the future spread of the virus. “Without robust risk controls people won’t have the confidence to fly,” it explains.
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, it says, is necessary for an effective industry-wide effort to reduce the overall risk of each individual flight and between flights.
Aviation has a “decisive part to play in preventing a second wave of infection and future pandemics,” according to Mott MacDonald, but to achieve this the passenger journey must “be rebuilt to limit transmission between passengers, between flights and to staff” and hygiene and prevention of transmission needs to be given “the same status as security,” it explains.
According to the consultancy, epidemiological control should centre on the three means of transfer. Reducing proximity to infectious people, where disease is spread through micro-droplet transmission in the air, reducing physical contact with infected people and ensuring the risks from fomites – handles, buttons, surfaces – are reduced through hygiene.
If exposure risk can be sufficiently reduced using evidence-based measures, then, the travelling public “will be reassured that the risk of travel is no greater (or could even be lower) than performing normal daily tasks,” it explains.
To achieve this 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, says Mott MacDonald. “If a touchpoint is not critical, it should be removed to allow hygiene to be focused on essentials,” it adds.