Posted by: bluesyemre | April 30, 2020

#SocialDistancing not viable nn #Airplanes, Industry says


The type of forced social distancing seen on public transport like the Moscow subway can’t work on airplanes, the industry says. AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

As many countries start to relax their Coronavirus lockdown restrictions, many are asking whether travel and border restrictions will be loosened in time for summer holidays.

Ahead of a meeting of EU transport ministers on Wednesday, Europe’s airlines have written an open letter saying they are ready to welcome people back to flying gradually. They say this can be done while maintaining health protections, but that this does not need to include spacing out passengers as has been done on public transport and trains.

“Social distancing is neither necessary nor viable on board an aircraft,” says the letter from Thomas Reynaert, managing director of industry association Airlines for Europe. “Measures and regulations must be proportionate by reflecting the actual risk levels.”

There is an active debate within the industry about whether spacing out passengers, as has been done on public transport, would work in planes. Some airlines have floated the idea and most are already keeping middle seats empty on the few flights that are operating. But Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has said unless his airline was compensated for the dramatic loss of revenue such a requirement would entail, Ryanair would refuse to fly under such conditions.

Health experts have pointed out that keeping empty a middle seat, which is just 45cm (18 inches) wide, would not respect the recommended social distancing of at least two meters (six feet). Because of the way airplanes are set up, respecting this rule would mean each passenger would need roughly seven seats.

The European Commission is preparing to unveil next a month a set of rules for the safe reopening of air travel when coronavirus lockdowns end. Measures being considered include compulsory face masks, and disinfection of planes and social distancing requirements in planes and airports.

The letter to transport ministers says that the most important element in saving the aviation sector from collapse while also safeguarding peoples’ health will be enacting measures in a coordinated way across countries. “Harmonisation of measures and regulations at a European – if not global level, are needed in order to ensure mutual recognition amongst countries,” Reynaert wrote. “Resumption of international operations should take place in a gradual manner, using an adjustable set of standards which reflect the degree of risk of a particular connection.”

Airlines 4 Europe is working on a restart strategy, called “Reconnect”, which will aim to regain passengers’ trust in the global European air transport system. “To that point, processes, targets and responsibilities should be defined unambiguously and coordinated at a European – if not global – level, fostering a gradual return to normal operations. Any measures linked to the COVID-19 pandemic should remain temporary in nature, its cost be borne by the States, and be evaluated on a regular basis to ensure their effectiveness and impact on travellers, and on airlines,” says Reynaert.

Though the return to flying should be co-ordinated, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work, he says. Restrictions should be targeted only on routes that are deemed to present a risk.

The airlines say that passengers should be guaranteed access to personal protective equipment. The idea of screening passengers for high temperatures before allowing them onto a plan has been discussed, and the letter says that such biosafety measures should only be “performed by those best placed to ensure their effectiveness”. Clear risk-based guidelines should be used for the criteria to allow certain groups of passengers and individuals to travel internationally.

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Eurocontrol, the international organization coordinating Europe’s air traffic controllers, today published two possible scenarios for how these “COVID-compliant operational procedures” for airlines and airports could affect a rebound in passenger numbers. They say a rebound will depend on whether the measures are coordinated well between countries. “An uncoordinated approach will significantly impede the rate of a recovery,” Eurocontrol said in a statement.

“If airlines have to comply with one set of regulations on departure and another set when the flight arrives in another state, then this will be particularly onerous on the industry.”

The projection assumes that intra-European traffic will return first, based on the experience in China where about 40% of domestic flights are now being operated, albeit at very low load factors. The initial months of both the high-coordination and low-coordination scenarios are based solely on an increase in intra-European traffic.

The Coordinated Measures Scenario envisages a loss of 45% of flights – 5 million – in 2020. The Uncoordinated Measures Scenario would result in the loss of 57% of flights – 6.2 million.

“The difference between the two scenarios is significant and highlights that the development of a common approach is vital in order to minimise the disruption and the cost of the pandemic.

Eurocontrol predicts there will be a total industry loss in revenues of approximately €110 billion during 2020 for airlines, airports and air navigation service providers.

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