US-India aviation group hopes to restore passenger confidence in air travel

Recent gathering focusses on contactless boarding, cleaning and disinfecting practices, minimising contaminants and encouraging passengers to wear face coverings.

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(PHOTO: Shutterstock)

The aviation and travel value chain in India came together in late June under the aegis of the US-India Aviation Cooperation Programme (ACP) to discuss ways to restore customer confidence in flying amid health concerns over COVID-19. ACP, in association with Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, and other industry leading companies, hosted a webinar entitled Restoring Confidence in Air Travel that saw participation from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Tourism, International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), International Air Transport Association (IATA), Airports Authority of India (AAI), Incheon International Airport, GMR, IndiGo, Marriott International, and the Taj Hotels.

The aviation and hospitality industries shared initiatives that they are taking to minimise the risk of virus transmission and layers of protection being built into every aspect of travel. This includes contactless boarding experience for passengers, cleaning and disinfecting practices in an aircraft, minimising contaminants from spreading throughout the aircraft cabin through the careful design of the cabin air system and encouraging passengers to wear face coverings.

“The COVID-19 pandemic requires a joint effort to minimise air travel health risks, and restore public confidence in travel and aviation. As air travel resumes and restrictions ease, the industry needs to partner and collaborate to develop new solutions, build on the existing best practices, and provide a safe travel experience to travellers. The safety and wellbeing of travellers, passengers and industry employees is a top priority for ACP and its members,” said Sandeep Bahl, programme director at ACP.

Boeing recently announced its Confident Travel Initiative where its team of experts will work with airlines, global regulators, industry stakeholders, flying passengers, infectious disease experts and behavioural specialists to establish industry-recognised safety recommendations. The team is also advising operators on existing, EPA-approved disinfectants that are compatible with airplane flight decks and cabins and testing other sanitisers. Boeing airplanes utilise High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that trap 99.9+ percent of particulates — including bacteria and viruses from recirculated air and prevents them from re-circulating back to the cabin. Boeing is also focusing on longer-lead items that will serve as additional layers of protection to what’s already in place today. This includes existing UV technology and how it might be used to sanitise the flight deck, off the shelf anti-microbial coatings that provide a hostile environment for viruses and bacteria once it’s sprayed on surfaces and self-disinfecting airplane lavatory.

Stressing improved air travel health measures as the need of the hour, Salil Gupte, president, Boeing India, said “we are partnering with airlines, Ministry of Civil Aviation, DGCA and the industry to create a multi-layered approach focused on keeping passengers and airline crews healthy. Layered protection requires a system-wide approach extending beyond the airplane to the full travel experience. Having consistent, industry-recognised safety standards and protocols will be an important part of recovery as travel resumes.”

Emphasising the need for industry alignment, Ashmita Sethi, president and country head, Pratt & Whitney, UTC India, said “as air travel recovers from the COVID-19 impact, innovation and coordination between the industry and government will be key to restoring passenger confidence. Pratt & Whitney has been supporting its customers in India to meet the demands of the world’s fastest growing aviation market. In fact, even during the recent pause in air travel due to the extended lockdown, we have continued to work closely with our airline customers – bringing in special charters to upgrade fleets, improving quick-turn MRO capabilities and reducing turn-around times – thereby ensuring that airlines are ready for a well-supported return to demand.”

An all-female Air India crew. (PHOTO: Air India)

Representatives from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Tourism and global aviation bodies like the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Air Transport Association stressed on the importance of a collaborative and globally coordinated approach towards increasing consumer confidence and demand.

“We continue to rigorously follow recommendations and measures by our industry, international council, health and safety organisations and other stakeholders to restore confidence in air travel for our people in India,” said Usha Padhee, joint secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, India.

Discussions during the webinar also highlighted the importance of seamless coordination between airports, airlines and other stakeholders in the travel value chain, as customers navigate the ‘new normal’ of flying.

“As the largest airline in India, IndiGo has developed our ‘lean, clean flying machine’ to help customers build confidence that travelling through the airports and on our aircraft will not put them at risk at all,” said William Boulter, chief commercial officer, IndiGo.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis for the aviation industry. The recovery from this crisis can happen only by restoring public confidence in the health and safety of flying. The new mitigation measures introduced at airports with respect to sanitisation, cleanliness, hygiene and social distancing, as well as health screening procedures on departure and arrival have significantly reposed confidence amongst the flyers, which is evident from the increasing number of air travellers,” said Videh Kumar Jaipuriar, CEO of DIAL. “At Delhi Airport we have set up UV tunnels to sanitise baggage, baggage trolleys etc., installed highly efficient HEPA filters to trap and flush out harmful particles such as pollen and dust mites, introduced contactless food ordering and delivery system among others, which have been highly appreciated by the people at large and boosted passenger confidence to a large extent.”

The US-India Aviation Cooperation Programme is a bilateral public-private partnership launched in 2007 between the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), the US Departments of Commerce and State and US aviation companies. It was established to provide a forum for unified communication between the government of India and US public and private sector entities in India. Under this public-private partnership, USTDA has sponsored an conference in New Delhi, a multi-phase Air Traffic Management Training Programme, and technical workshops on certification of India’s satellite navigation system, GAGAN, and Air Traffic Flow Management practices. New projects include a Helicopter Aviation Safety and Aviation Standards and Processes technical assistance programme for the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

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