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Overhaul of the aviation sector expected

Airlines may be required to reduce passenger numbers by one-third

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When the aviation industry resumes business, strict rules intended to reduce the spread of Covid-19 will be imposed. Credit: Getty Images

SINGAPORE - The airline industry is undergoing a major shift in how it conducts business as it aligns itself with the global mandate for stricter health safety rules and travel restrictions.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general and chief executive, Mr Alexandre de Juniac, has warned that when the aviation industry resumes business, strict rules intended to reduce the spread of Covid-19 will be imposed.

IATA said it plans to conduct virtual meetings with governments and other stakeholders to begin coordination efforts on health screenings and travel restrictions this month.

This will mean changes in two ways. The first, 'de-densification' involves reducing passenger numbers on a given flight to maintain social distancing while the second, 'neutralisation', is the process of designating seats that must remain unoccupied.

"De-densification, if it is requested by the civil aviation and the health authority, will be by neutralising one seat in each row among the two rows of seats of short-haul aircraft," said Mr De Juniac, adding that this will be a complete shift of the business model of airlines operating short-haul aircraft. This means that airlines may be required to reduce passenger numbers by one-third.

Meanwhile, a set of guidelines by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), in response to COVID-19, outlined measures such as cleaning of lavatories once every two hours, or after being used 10 times.

It also states that the last three rows of seats on international flights should be kept empty as a quarantine area for handling possible in-flight emergencies, with the rear lavatory on the right side being designated for the exclusive use of those under quarantine.

Alaskan Airlines has put in place a passenger seating practice to incorporate distancing between passengers by blocking off middle seats on larger aircraft and aisle seats on smaller planes.

This week, Emirates said it was the first airline to conduct rapid COVID-19 testing on passengers before boarding. It carried out the tests on passengers on a flight from Dubai to Tunisia on Wednesday (15 April). Results from the blood test were ready within 10 minutes.

It is also working to increase testing capabilities and extend it to other flights. It adds that its testing could also be used as confirmation for Emirates passengers travelling to countries that require COVID-19 test certificates.

Additionally, the airline requires passengers to wear masks throughout boarding and flight. In-flight magazines have been eliminated, while carry-on baggage is not permitted except for small items like handbags and briefcases.

Last week, Etihad Airways said it was testing new kiosks at the airport in Abu Dhabi that could monitor the temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate of passengers checking in for a flight or dropping a bag. If signs of illness are detected, the kiosk will suspend the check-in or alert a staff member and the passenger will be examined by a medical professional.