In recent years, the world has seen a number of epidemics: SARS in 2002, swine flu or H1N1 in 2009, the Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016. Now, COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus, is rapidly advancing across continents. Stores have been selling out of hand sanitizer, companies are taking steps to let employees work from home and are discouraging unnecessary travel, and industry events are being cancelled – even the Louvre has shut its doors to the public.
To prevent the spread of the disease, authorities have advised taking extra precautions when travelling. What does this mean for your operation? How can you prepare for an epidemic, and what measures can you take to mitigate concerns?
Vigilance before, during, and after your flight
If you can’t avoid travelling, there are a number of things to keep in mind.
1. Before your flight
Try to avoid flying into affected regions. If you have the option of meeting remotely, changing your destination, or delaying your meeting, you may save yourself a lot of trouble while also protecting yourself and loved ones from exposure.
If you can’t avoid the area, be sure that part of your preflight planning is to review what authorities are saying about health-related data in the region you’re flying into. Some useful resources are:
- World Health Organization (WHO) – The WHO provides a list of countries and health profiles
- EASA Safety Publications Tool
- Center for Disease Control (CDC) – While the CDC is a US agency, their travel destination advice may be beneficial to operators around the world
- International Air Transport Association (IATA) – health and safety page
Your Flight Operations Manual can help you with your pre-flight planning research.
|NOTE: If you are flying to regions with known COVID-19 infections, keep in mind that your crew and passengers may be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days upon return and prepare accordingly.|
Make sure your crew and passengers have up to date vaccinations and that they are aware of which ones they have to acquire when travelling to a particular region.
Locate suitable and safe airports for an emergency landing in advance of the flight. If you’re flying over a remote area, like a polar or desert region, you may not have medical support readily available.
Finally, prepare and review your escape plan. In the event you would need to suddenly evacuate your crew and passengers from your destination, having a plan at hand will help you coordinate your steps to leave as quickly as possible while mitigating the risks of spreading the disease or becoming infected. You will want to consider factors such as flight crew becoming ill, potential limitations to airports of entry, and best practices upon landing. These procedures should be integrated into your Emergency Response Plan (ERP).
2. During your flight
When it comes to in-flight health and safety, there are a number of preventative measures you can take.
Most important during any kind of epidemic, including COVID-19, is to make sure you wash your hands frequently and correctly. Proper handwashing should be done with soap and clean water for at least 20 seconds or long enough to sing Happy Birthday, or some of the suggestions from this viral Twitter thread.
In addition, bring additional supplies such as face masks, disinfectants and wipes, a disease kit, and keep your first-aid kit fully stocked. Check expiry dates! Take care when touching surfaces multiple people come into contact with, like now widely used touch screens, since some viruses can survive extended periods on common surfaces.
|NOTE: For COVID-19, face masks are most effective when worn by someone who is suspected of being infected. If you believe a crew member or passenger has been infected, ensure they are provided with a face mask before non-infected individuals.|
For catering, make sure food is kept at the right temperature and handled with gloves and utensils to prevent food poisoning and cross-contamination. Verify that any seals placed on food containers by the catering vendor are intact prior to consumption. Ensure that anyone handling food or dishes has washed their hands to prevent the spread of viruses.
3. Upon arrival
Once you’re in your destination country, keep an eye on the real-time developments by checking news updates. Maintain basic hygiene standards, such as washing your hands and keeping a safe distance from people who are showing symptoms. Try to avoid large crowds and consider limiting the number of places you visit and staying in your hotel or residence.
Keep the contact details of your crew and passengers on hand so you can reach out at a moment’s notice. Take the time to find out where local hospitals or emergency centers are. Finally, know your insurance policy, in case you need to be repatriated.
4. If someone falls ill
Despite taking precautions, one of your crew or passengers may still become sick. Whether it happens mid-flight or after you’ve landed, you need to know the necessary procedures. Normally, your ERP should cover this.
- In the air
Your crew should know who is doing what when it comes to first aid. If you have a Flight Attendant present, you’ll have a little more flexibility than with a one or two-pilot crew. Know what to do in case a crew member is incapacitated.
Engage with a medical service provider, such as Medaire, for additional assistance.
Communicate with Air Traffic Control in case you need to schedule an emergency landing, or if you require medical equipment and personnel upon arrival. Keep your emergency procedures written down and available to use.
|NOTE: If you suspect a specific infection like COVID-19, be sure to let ATC know so the airport of landing can prepare extra health-related measures if required. A number of large airports are developing quarantine procedures and locations.|
- On the ground – for flights and at home base
Have a set procedure in place identifying who will or can provide first aid and who will be responsible for calling emergency services. Although pilots generally have first aid training, look into providing this to your ground operations and maintenance teams as well. Being well-versed in your ERP can save precious minutes.
No matter the size of your operation, everyone should follow the same steps and procedures. A smaller company may have fewer resources readily available, but may be able to rely on third-party handlers to help out.
Vigilance for FBOs and ground operations
For operations on the ground, and Fixed Based Operators (FBOs), travel-related health is also an issue. FBOs are constantly receiving aircraft from around the world and their personnel are meeting and interacting with a multitude of people. There a few things your team should prepare for.
Ensure all employees frequently and properly wash hands. During viral outbreaks (such as the flu) consider alternatives to handshakes.
Have masks on hand so you can make them available to arriving crews and passengers, as requested.
If you are in an area at high risk of infection transmission, monitor your team for symptoms.
|NOTE: If your operation is in an area with known COVID-19 infections and an employee begins to exhibit symptoms, have them wear a mask, seek medical attention, and avoid coming to work until a medical professional determines it is safe for them to return.|
Lastly, you will want to prepare for potential staff shortages or temporary closings. If someone on your team becomes infected it may spread to multiple team members or health officials may force the closure of your office until it can be disinfected.
With the highly connected world of today, travel-related health concerns are likely here to stay. You can be ready for these types of situations by addressing them in your company’s Operations Manuals, Emergency Response Plan, and Safety Management System (SMS). Include these types of elements of risk in your Safety Risk Profile, your Incident / Hazard Reports, and Risk Assessments. Even if an outbreak hasn’t directly impacted your organization, it’s still an existing risk you can mitigate by evaluating its severity.
If you want to know more about how an SMS can help your organization, take a look at ARC, our Safety Management System software. Any questions? Contact us. We can help update your ERP, FOM, or IOM to cover these situations.