The global aviation system is a network, and mitigation measures are only as strong as the weakest link. This principle is especially important in strengthening public confidence worldwide. While national and regional needs may require different approaches, it is of paramount importance to avoid a global patchwork of incompatible health safety measures. States should implement globally and regionally-harmonized, mutually accepted measures that do not create undue economic burdens or compromise the safety and security of civil aviation.
Beyond the public health emergency, COVID-19 also presents systemic and organisational risks for aviation safety due to the financial situation that most airlines and service providers currently face. A healthy aviation industry is critically important for ensuring high levels of aviation safety and security. Based on global objectives and performance-based standards, COVID-19 risk mitigation measures should be flexible and targeted to ensure that a vibrant and competitive global aviation sector will drive the economic recovery. Measures that impose costs or burdens on the industry must be carefully considered and justified by safety, security, public health, confidence of passengers and crew, or other benefits.
Aviation safety-related measures
At the outbreak of COVID-19, States were faced with the urgent need to temporarily depart from ICAO Standards. A focus of ICAO has therefore been to support States in managing such alleviations while ensuring that any associated safety risks were adequately addressed, facilitating recognition and acceptance by other States, and making that information readily available for all stakeholders.
Physical distancing practices, closure of workspaces in Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs) in some States and other measures as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak made it difficult for some States to comply fully with certain ICAO Standards. The Chicago Convention requires States to implement ICAO Standards or to file differences if their regulations depart from those Standards. ICAO has set up a tool to identify any temporary differences from ICAO Standards on certification and licensing that are necessary to maintain operations during the COVID-19 pandemic via a user-friendly interface and making the information readily available.
ICAO Regional Offices and Regional Safety Oversight Organisations are supporting States in uploading harmonized information, as well as in implementing mitigation measures at the regional level. Initial response has been very positive. ICAO has expedited the development and publication of new guidance, Handbook for CAAs on the Management of Aviation Safety Risks related to COVID-19 (Doc 10144) to support the continuation of safe operations. ICAO also developed material, including quick reference guides on establishing and implementing alleviations for provisions identified in the tool and for other operational issues that States are facing during this contingency. This material and other best practices are published on a webpage to make them available for the benefit of the global aviation community.
States and industry are already using these ICAO tools very effectively. States are encouraged to keep the information updated during the global crisis. Those few that have yet to participate are invited to do so. Making this information available ensures regulatory certainty for operators of States that are still in contingency and continue with alleviations, when flying to another State. States should be mindful of the safety risk of prolonged alleviation and put in place the necessary mitigating measures to offset those risks.
As operators were having difficulties in positioning their aircraft crew due to an incorrect interpretation of the definitions for passenger and cargo aircraft in Annex 18 – The Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, ICAO guidance was issued to ensure the accurate interpretation and avoid unnecessary operational constraints.
During the global COVID-19 outbreak, Member States should continue updating COVID-19 Contingency Related Differences (CCRDs) in the Electronic Filing of Differences (EFOD) subsystem.
Member States should avoid retaining any COVID-19 related alleviation measures as soon as normal operations are resumed. Differences that remain after the contingency if any should be filed in the EFOD system.
Member States should expedite the development of guidance for safety management of new operations or operation change during this crisis.
Aviation public health-related measures
ICAO set up the Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA) programme in 2006 in response to the SARS crisis.
As a voluntary multisectoral platform, CAPSCA combines resources and expertise from both aviation and public health sectors to support the preparedness for, and management of, public health events affecting civil aviation. The CAPSCA network links ICAO, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other United Nations (UN) entities, International Aviation Organizations, Civil Aviation Authorities and Public Health Organizations at global, regional and national levels.
CAPSCA recommended the implementation of the ICAO Public Health Corridor (PHC) concept to engender confidence in the restart. The PHC concept was developed using a risk-based approach, taking into account relevant safety management principles, WHO recommendations and aviation sector pandemic guidance. The first guidance material developed under this concept, Implementing a Public Health Corridor to Protect Flight Crew during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Cargo Operations), aims at the facilitation of essential cargo flights to support supply chain operations in the delivery of essential medical supplies as part of the global response to the pandemic.
A baseline set of health risk mitigation measures as a core enabler for recovery
CART considered all of the aforementioned initiatives when evaluating the critical priorities to be addressed to ensure the restart and recovery of aviation. Passenger operations were identified as a key area that required further guidance.
The guidance document, Take-off: Guidance for Air Travel through the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis, in the Attachment to this report is the core element of a strategy for international civil aviation recovery. This guidance document puts forward a comprehensive framework of recommended measures to address and mitigate the risk for passengers and aviation workers during all phases of a journey. It has been developed by CART in collaboration with experts from Singapore, United States, Zambia, and the following organisations: WHO, European Union (EU)/ European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Arab Civil Aviation Organization (ACAO), Airports Council International (ACI), Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), International Air Transport Association (IATA) and International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations (ICCAIA).
The pace and stages of the COVID-19 outbreak have differed across the world; and have therefore required appropriate and adapted mitigation measures. In the second quarter of 2020, significant parts of the global aviation sector were either in a stage of minimal movement, or just about to leave that stage. These recommended measures are therefore meant to be applied according to the evolving situation to support a risk-based, safe and secure resumption of passenger traffic until the pandemic is brought under control.
The guiding considerations for developing the Take-off document are to:
- Remain Focused on Fundamentals: Safety, Security and Efficiency;
- Promote Public Health and Confidence among Passengers, Aviation Workers, and the General Public; and
- Recognize Aviation as a Driver of Economic Recovery.
The recommended measures should strengthen aviation public health and consumer confidence while minimising negative operational and efficiency impacts. The measures should capitalise on the sector’s risk management experience and be as consistent as possible, yet flexible enough to respond to regional or situational requirements. Incorporating new public health measures into the aviation system in a practical manner should further enable the sector to support economic recovery and growth.
The Take-off document recommends risk mitigation measures that are generally applicable to all phases of air passenger and cargo transport under four separate modules, i.e. airports, aircraft, crew members and cargo services. These measures apply to the entire passenger journey, from arriving at the terminal, to leaving the baggage claim area, and also address aviation workers in the cabin, on the flight deck and on the ground. The document recommends clear and consistent information to passengers and crew, the use of face coverings and masks, physical distancing and sanitation procedures amongst other measures. Together, the measures outlined in the document form the basis upon which a restart and recovery plan can be built. This Take-off document will facilitate global and regional harmonization in aviation health safety, while giving States the flexibility to implement measures based on their risk assessments and stage of the outbreak.
The Take-off document is a “living” document. It will be updated as more scientific evidence becomes available, and in view of practical experience when applying the recommended measures. The framework of the document could be adapted to other types of operations and aviation activities such as general aviation, air traffic control, and maintenance organizations. The application of those public health measures should be monitored and evaluated on a dynamic basis as the situation evolves, to avoid retention by default, unnecessary regulatory burden and inefficiencies.
Global and regional harmonization of procedures is essential to strengthen public and passenger confidence in air travel. To that end, Member States should establish aviation public health procedures aligned with the guidance in the Take-off: Guidance for Air Travel through the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis.
In order to support the fastest possible return to normal aviation operations, Member States should regularly review the necessity of continuing the application of risk mitigation measures as the risk of COVID-19 transmission diminishes; and measures which are no longer needed should be discontinued.
Security- and facilitation-related measures
States’ obligations under Annex 9 – Facilitation provisions
In light of border closures and travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, measures that facilitate the movement of people and goods (known as “facilitation” under Annex 9 to the Chicago Convention) are more vital than ever in the recovery of aviation post-COVID.
The level of States’ non-compliance with relevant Annex 9 Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) poses risks to an effectively coordinated civil aviation response to a pandemic. Limited use by States of a Passenger Health Locator Form as recommended by ICAO undermines States’ ability to perform contact tracing following the arrival of cases of infection. Establishing a National Air Transport Facilitation Committees, as required by Annex 9, or its equivalent, and ensuring its effective functioning, can deliver the level of coordination amongst government and industry stakeholders required for prompt and effective actions.
Increased use of advanced technologies is encouraged to facilitate contactless processing of passengers at various stages of their journey.
An Implementation Package composed of standardized training and tools will be available in June 2020 to guide the implementation of the relevant facilitation provisions by States’ authorities, aviation service providers and supply chain stakeholders.
Aviation security guidance
Adjustment to aviation security-related measures will also be needed. A guidance document, Aviation Security Contingency Plan during COVID-19 Pandemic, will be published in June 2020 as a reference in maintaining an adequate level of security in the current circumstances. This guidance will recommend procedures at airport security checkpoints and for other aspects of aviation security such as access control, surveillance, security of cargo and mail, aircraft security and staff training.
Treatment of unruly and disruptive passengers
Increased stress imposed on passengers through new processes and their overall travel experience may lead to increased disputes between passengers or with the crew. For guidance on the management of such occurrences, States should refer to the Manual on the Legal Aspects of Unruly and Disruptive Passengers (Doc 10117).
Passenger’s understanding of and compliance with the aviation public health and safety measures is essential for the effectiveness of such measures, and for the trust that other passengers will place in the safety of their journey. It is the responsibility of States to raise public awareness of the consequences of disobeying crew instructions or disturbing good order and discipline on board aircraft. Authorities should publish the relevant information and identify the best channels to reach out to passengers. States are expected to review their national legislation to ensure that unruly and disruptive behaviour relative to COVID-19 measures is properly covered.
States should also ensure that airlines’ staff are appropriately trained in passenger service skills, in the recognition of the signs of a potential unruly behaviour of a passenger and in crisis containment under these exceptional circumstances.
Member States that have not done so should immediately establish a National Air Transport Facilitation Committee (or equivalent) as required by Annex 9 to increase national level cross-sectoral coordination.
Member States should systematically use a Passenger Health Locator Form to ensure identification and traceability of passengers to help limit the spread of the disease and resurgence of the pandemic.
While temporarily adapting their security-related measures, using the guidance provided, Member States should strengthen their oversight system to ensure these measures are consistently applied with the objective of protecting aviation against acts of unlawful interference.
Member States should take measures to ensure that relevant personnel are provided training to identify and manage unruly passenger situations related to non-respect of essential aviation public health and safety measures.
Economic and financial measures
In the global effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, governments have imposed stringent travel restrictions, closed borders, and severely limited the movement of people. These decisions as well as the global economic downturn have had significant impact on the viability of the civil aviation industry worldwide.
Taking into consideration the direct and indirect economic benefits generated by air transport to their national economies, States should provide the most appropriate means for supporting stakeholders across the civil aviation sector, if and when deemed necessary, possibly through regional or international economic cooperation as well as with the private sector and financial institutions. Such extraordinary emergency measures could range from regulatory relief, operational flexibilities, grants of extra-bilateral air service rights or traffic rights, to economic stimulus or direct financial assistance.
These measures must be inclusive, targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary, limited to what is necessary to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and consistent with ICAO’s policies while striking an appropriate balance among the respective interests without prejudice to fair competition or compromising safety, security and environmental commitments.
Capabilities of States to provide support to their industry vary greatly. As diverging and competing requests will be made by different industry stakeholders, States will need to adhere to principles of good governance, through corresponding institutional and regulatory frameworks, in order to reconcile objectives and needs with responsibilities and resources, often in the face of rivalling, and/or conflicting priorities.
Member States should consider appropriate extraordinary emergency measures to support financial viability and to maintain an adequate level of safe, secure and efficient operations, which should be inclusive, targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary and consistent with ICAO’s policies, while striking an appropriate balance among the respective interests without prejudice to fair competition and compromising safety, security and environmental performance.
Regular monitoring and sharing of experiences through ICAO
The level of implementation of measures contained in the previous sub-sections of this report will need to be regularly monitored. ICAO, as the specialized UN agency for the international civil aviation system, should be the central resource for this, including the documentation of all actions taken by States with regards to these measures.
In playing this role, ICAO should facilitate the sharing of experiences and best practices among States and serve as basis to identify gaps and needed support. Through this information, ICAO will be able to provide appropriate, targeted and timely guidance, training and assistance to Member States for the effective implementation of measures outlined in this Report.
Member States should facilitate information-sharing and exchange on their actions and best practices by contributing to an ICAO database of measures.