The Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has endorsed new updates to its Aviation Recovery Task Force’s (CART’s) ‘Take-off’ Guidelines for international air transport. The new guidelines provide recommendations for countries to consider adopting per their current local medical status, and on specific priorities including general hygiene, masks and face coverings, health screening and declarations, air passengers with reduced mobility, and the mental health and well-being of aviation workers and passengers.
The Council also acknowledged the sovereignty and authority of each country over its national pandemic recovery priorities, including with respect to the evaluation and use of passenger testing to help alleviate quarantine measures and reconnect destinations globally.
“Countries are urged to follow this updated guidance to align their measures, while upholding each state’s prerogative to implement additional and/or alternative mitigation measures in accordance with their specific needs and circumstances,” said ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano. “The speed of the evolving global situation requires timely and targeted guidance to effectively support States in their efforts to contain the pandemic while pursuing the restart and recovery of aviation,” said. “This makes clear the critical importance of global and regional coordination on setting out mutually accepted measures.”
The chair of the Recovery Task Force, Estanislao Esono Anguesomo of Equatorial Guinea, noted that the latest task force updates focus “primarily on the evolving technological and medical advancements in the fight against COVID-19. They incorporate the continuous feedback ICAO is receiving from national authorities, international organisations including the World Health and Tourism Organisations (WHO/UNWTO), as well as regional organisations and industry.”
New guideline considerations
- Testing and cross border risk management measures: The first edition of the CART Take-off Guidelines document noted that rapid COVID-19 tests available at the time were not recommended due to their relatively low level of efficacy. Since then, testing technology continues to improve rapidly. In addition, health authorities have gained a greater understanding of how the COVID-19 virus is transmitted and how the effective use of certain tests might contribute to reducing the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission. While testing is not universally recommended by public health authorities as a routine health screening method, it has been implemented by some states for this purpose. CART, therefore, tasked the Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA) to study available testing methods and advise CART on what factors States could consider regarding testing, as well as guidance on how to implement testing as part of an overall risk management strategy should they wish to do so. CART therefore recommends that States contemplating testing should apply the approach outlined in the ICAO Manual on Testing and Cross Border Risk Management Measures (currently under final review by WHO, with expected publication date 16 November). If doing so, states are also encouraged to consider affordable testing means to minimise travel costs for passengers.
- Masks and Public Hygiene guidelines: The guidance on face coverings and medical masks has been updated to allow passengers to travel that cannot tolerate a face covering or medical mask, such as young children or individuals with physical disabilities, respiratory or other medical conditions. It also includes a new section on general hygiene to be followed at airports and on-board aircraft.
- Public Health Corridors (PHCs): When considering the guidance contained in the updated Take-off Guideline document and the ICAO Manual on Testing and Cross Border Risk Management Measures, states are strongly encouraged to collaborate with each other regarding the PHC implementation. A PHC is formed when two or more States agree to recognize the public health mitigation measures each has implemented on one or more routes between their states. To enable such mutual recognition, states are strongly encouraged to actively share information with other states and enter into bilateral or multilateral discussions with each other to implement PHCs in a harmonised manner. To facilitate implementation of PHCs, the ICAO Implementation Package on Establishing a PHC will be available to states on 16 November 2020.
- Aviation safety-related measures: As states work to restart air travel, a large proportion of the global fleet, air crew, airport operations staff, and air traffic controllers that have been inactive for prolonged periods will need to be reactivated and retrained, where appropriate. To ensure a safe restart, states should take the necessary steps to mitigate the safety risks associated with such reactivation. States that have filed differences for temporary departures from ICAO Standards under the COVID-19 Contingency Related Differences (CCRD), or that have granted other COVID-19-related regulatory alleviation, are reminded that these differences and alleviations were intended to be temporary in nature. Prolonged differences and alleviations, such as those related to personnel certification and licensing, could result in an elevated operational safety risk. States should, therefore, put in place the necessary measures to manage those risks and should not extend alleviations (both core and extended CCRDs) beyond 31 March 2021. States are encouraged to facilitate access to medical and training facilities, including flight simulation training devices used for flight crew to maintain their recency of experience and proficiency. States also are strongly encouraged to refer their operators to the ICAO Operational Safety Measures website, where links to guidance documents developed by ICAO, ACI, IATA, the ICCAIA, and others, are available.