In response to the COVID-19 crippling pandemic, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) published the Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) take-off guidance. The guidance includes a section on public health risk mitigation measures, in addition to four operational modules relating to airports, aircrafts, crew and cargo.
In this month’s airport special, we will be summing up the ICAO’s guideline recommendations for safe airports during the pandemic. The airport module includes health safety recommendations to be applied in all constituting elements of a functional airport: the terminal building, general check-in area, security screening, terminal airside area, terminal gate equipment, disembarking and arrivals, baggage claim area and the exit landside area.
In short, the guideline considers all aspects of operations in the terminal building.
Based on a written plan, enhanced cleaning and disinfection of terminal infrastructure and equipment should be done on a regular basis using readily available cleaning and disinfection products by well trained staff, with special emphasis on disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. Effective air filtration to keep the air clean is also of utmost importance.
In addition, physical distancing measures should be applied to the greatest extent possible throughout the airport. Passengers should wear medical masks as well, especially at points of departure and arrival.
Staff should be provided with an adequate level of protection based on their risk of exposure. Protective measures may include personal protective equipment, health screening programs, scheduling, easy access to sanitizers, physical distancing, and possibly the use of barriers. Staff are also encouraged to do shift handovers and training contact-free (online).
Access to the terminal must be limited to staff, passengers, persons accompanying passengers with disabilities and minors. The use of non-contact thermometers in designated areas is also recommended.
The general check-in area at an airport usually witnesses high passenger traffic, and requires strict measures to reduce congestion. The ICAO recommends that passengers should complete most of the check-in process before arriving at the airport. Self-service options should also be made available wherever possible to limit touchpoints. To encourage physical distancing, airports should provide signage, floor markings and announcements via public address systems.
Preventative measures should extend to security screening checkpoints as well. Physical distancing to start with, through proper signage and information, in addition to measures to control access to security screening checkpoints and reduce queues. Screeners are encouraged to sanitize their hands frequently between passengers and wear protective gloves and masks when conducting manual searches on passengers. Security screening staff should be exempt from carrying out health and safety screening to make sure they remain focused on their job.
The post-security airside area is usually an area with high passenger traffic, few physical barriers and wide-open space. Consideration needs to be given to the temporary need for social distancing, while still allowing access to dining and shopping facilities. Gate areas and VIP lounges also see high passenger volume, thus flow monitoring tools, physical installations and floor markings need to be deployed to limit crowding. Enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols need to be in order as well. Multiple sanitizer stations need to be placed throughout the airport with proper signage. Temporary closing of certain service areas like children playgrounds need to be considered. The implementation of self-boarding technologies need to be considered as well, with the possibility self-scanning of documents. Contactless technology payment options need to be encouraged as well at shopping and dining facilities. The installation of touch-free equipment at toilet facilities need to be considered as well.
In response to the lack of passenger traffic, security checks need to be considered prior to the recovery of airline traffic. Electromechanical equipment maintenance protocols and check-ups need to be deployed.
The process of border control and customs may require temporary revision to increase social distancing, reduce queuing, and minimize contact between border officials and passengers. The use of automated border control (ABC) equipment, digital passenger identification (biometrics) as well as thermal screening may help as an additional health screening measure and may speed up the immigration process. Some governments are even considering a health declaration to be completed by passengers before departure or on arrival.
Since the baggage claim area of an airport is susceptible to passenger football and physical contact with luggage carts, baggage, washrooms and others, it is important to implement high frequency cleaning and in-depth disinfection measures. It is also important to make all efforts necessary to speed up the baggage claim and custom clearance process and limit passenger crowding. Floor markings and tensile barriers could be used to promote social distancing.
Protocols and precautions need to be in order for arriving passengers who are exiting the landside area, with special emphasis on both the greeter’s area and the terminal’s exit area.