COVID-19: IATA issues ‘principles’ to re-start aviation and biosecurity guidelines for passenger confidence

Head of association says aviation is at the ‘crossroads’ of global health and global economy and wants to safely re-connect the world; Airports Council International World joins with IATA on new guidelines

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A screenshot of the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracking site taken on 20 May. To access the live site, click on the image. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the main trade group for the global aviation industry, has issued five “key principles” to help re-start the industry and also expanded on its earlier “layered approach” to biosafety for the flying public and the crews that serve them on the ground and in the air as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the industry.

The director general of IATA, Alexandre de Juniac, said during the association’s weekly media conference call, that the declaration of the five principles “is important because it demonstrates the industry’s unity of purpose and commitment to work with our stakeholders to safely re-connect our world. We hope that it will send a strong message to governments that they must also work together. COVID-19 is a global health crisis and a global economic crisis. Aviation is the crossroads of both”.

And on Wednesday (20 May), IATA and Airports Council International (ACI) jointly issued a paper laying out a pathway for restarting the aviation industry – Safely Restarting Aviation – ACI and IATA Joint Approach, which lays out some of the same positions as IATA mentioned on its media call.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general. (PHOTO: IATA file)

De Juniac, as he has in the recent past, called on governments and other organisations involved in aviation to cooperate on standards and measures to avoid the pitfalls that arise in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the US, which he called a “mess” because “governments acted unilaterally. This created confusion for airlines and travellers alike. And it took many years to clean up”.

“We have a small window to avoid these mistakes with COVID-19 by agreeing global standards for a re-start,” de Juniac said. “In doing so, we must build in measures for continuous review so that we can streamline the system as science and technology evolve. There is reason to be optimistic. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is leading an initiative called CART. That is the COVID-19 Aviation Recovery Task Force. And it is working well and fast. Our proposals are in support of that process.


Listen to the IATA 19 May media call here.
Download IATA’s biosecurity guidelines here.


“If we are successful in a smooth re-start for aviation that will pay big benefits in solving the economic dimension of the COVID-19 challenge,” de Juniac added. “The shape and size of the industry may change as a result of this crisis. But aviation will remain a critical support for vast sectors of the economy. The sooner we can safely reconnect the world, the more jobs can be saved. And, combined with economic stimulus packages, a reconnected world will be a solid foundation for economic recovery.”

IATA’s five principles for re-connecting the world by air transport

  1. Aviation will always put safety and security first: Airlines commit to work with our partners in governments, institutions and across the industry to implement a science-based biosecurity regime that will keep our passengers and crew safe while enabling efficient operations and ensure that aviation is not a meaningful source for the spread of communicable diseases, including COVID-19.
  2. Aviation will respond flexibly as the crisis and science evolve: Airlines commit to work with our partners in governments, institutions and across the industry to utilise new science and technology as it becomes available, for example, reliable, scalable and efficient solutions for COVID-19 testing or immunity passports and develop a predictable and effective approach to managing any future border closures or mobility restrictions as well as ensure that measures are scientifically supported, economically sustainable, operationally viable, continuously reviewed, and removed/replaced when no longer necessary.
  3. Aviation will be a key driver of the economic recovery: Airlines commit to work with our partners in governments, institutions and across the industry to re-establish capacity that can meet the demands of the economic recovery as quickly as possible and ensure that affordable air transport will be available in the post-pandemic period.
  4. Aviation will meet its environment targets: Airlines commit to work with our partners in governments, institutions and across the industry to achieve our long-term goal of cutting net carbon emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050 and successfully implement the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).
  5. Aviation will operate to global standards which are harmonised and mutually recognised by governments: Airlines commit to work with our partners in governments, institutions and across the industry to establish the global standards necessary for an effective re-start of aviation, particularly drawing on strong partnerships with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and ensure that agreed measures are effectively implemented and mutually recognised by governments.

IATA Outlines Layered Approach for Industry Re-Start

IATA has also published Biosecurity for Air Transport: A Roadmap for Restarting Aviation, which outlines IATA’s proposal for a layering of temporary biosecurity measures. The roadmap aims to provide the confidence that governments will need to enable the re-opening of borders to passenger travel; and the confidence that travellers will need to return to flying. Pre-flight, IATA said it foresees the need for governments to collect passenger data in advance of travel, including health information, which should be accomplished using well-tested channels such as those used for eVisa or electronic travel authorisation programmes.

Some airlines, like Emirates, are already testing passengers for COVID-19 before they even check in. (PHOTO: Emirates)

At the departure airport, IATA foresees several layers of protective measures, including:

  • Access to the terminal building should be restricted to airport / airline workers and travellers (with exceptions being made for those accompanying passengers with disabilities or unaccompanied minors)
  • Temperature screening by trained government staff at entry points to the terminal building
  • Physical distancing through all passenger processes, including queue management
  • Use of face coverings for passengers and masks for staff in line with local regulations.
  • Self-service options for check-in used by passengers as much as possible to reduce contact points and queues. This includes remote check-in (electronic / home printed boarding passes), automated bag drops (with home printed bag tags) and self-boarding.
  • Boarding should be made as efficient as possible with re-designed gate areas, congestion-reducing boarding priorities, and hand luggage limitations.
  • Cleaning and sanitisation of high touch areas in line with local regulations. This includes wide availability of hand sanitisers.
Passengers will be asked to wear masks on-board and take other measures to protect themselves and fellow passengers. (PHOTO: Qantas)

In-flight, IATA foresees several layers of protective measures, including:

  • Face coverings required for all passengers and non-surgical masks for crew.
  • Simplified cabin service and pre-packaged catering to reduce interaction between passengers and crew.
  • Reduced congregation of passengers in the cabin, for example by prohibiting queues for washrooms.
  • Enhanced and more frequent deep cleaning of the cabin.

At the arrival airport, IATA foresees several layers of protective measures:

  • Temperature screening by trained government staff if required by authorities.
  • Automated procedures for customs and border control including use of mobile applications and biometric technologies (which have already proven track record by some governments).
  • Accelerated processing and baggage reclaim to enable social distancing by reducing congestion and queuing.
  • Health declarations and robust contact tracing are expected to be undertaken by governments to reduce the risk of imported chains of transmission.

IATA stressed that these measures should be temporary, regularly reviewed, replaced when more efficient options are identified or removed should they become unnecessary. Specifically, IATA expressed hope in two areas which could be ‘game-changers’ in facilitating efficient travel until a vaccine is found:

“The roadmap is the industry’s high-level thinking on safely re-starting aviation. Timing is critical,” said IATA’s de Juniac. “Governments understand the importance of aviation to the social and economic recovery of their countries and many are planning a phased re-opening of borders in the coming months. We have a short time to reach agreement on the initial standards to support safely reconnecting the world and to firmly establish that global standards are essential to success. This will change as technology and medical science advances. The vital element is coordination. If we don’t take these first steps in a harmonised way, we will spend many painful years recovering ground that should not have been lost.”

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