The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Tuesday it supports the wearing of face coverings for passengers and masks for crew on board aircraft as an interim measure against the coronavirus pandemic.
The association, representing some 290 airlines comprising 82% of global air traffic, said it does not support mandating social distancing measures that would leave “middle seats” empty.
IATA also said the wearing of a mask is a critical part of a layered approach to biosecurity to be implemented temporarily when people return to traveling by air.
“The safety of passengers and crew is paramount. The aviation industry is working with governments to re-start flying when this can be done safely,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director-general and CEO, in a statement.
“Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low. And we will take measures – such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by the crew – to add extra layers of protection,” he said.
De Juniac said there must be a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable.
In addition to face coverings, other layers of temporary biosecurity measures being proposed include temperature screening of passengers, airport workers and travelers.
Also, IATA would like to have boarding and deplaning processes that reduce contact with other passengers or crew and to limit movement within the cabin during flight.
Other measures include more frequent and deeper cabin cleaning, as well as simplified catering procedures that lower crew movement and interaction with passengers.
“When proven and available at scale, testing for COVID-19 or immunity passports could also be included as temporary biosecurity measures,” said IATA.
Evidence, although limited, suggests that the risk of virus transmission on board aircraft is low even without special measures, it added.
It cited contact tracing for a flight from China to Canada with a symptomatic COVID-19 passenger revealed no onboard transmission.
“We need a vaccine, an immunity passport, or an effective COVID-19 test that can be administered at scale. Work on all of these is promising. But none will be realized before we will need to re-start the industry,” said de Juniac.
In March alone, IATA had said global passenger traffic plunged nearly 53% compared to the same period a year earlier, the biggest plunge in recent history.
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