COVID detection trials landing at Heathrow
Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye informed the House of Commons Transport Committee yesterday that the airport is to trial technologies and processes which could form the basis of a Common International Standard for health screening at all global airports. The aim of the collective measures being trialled is to reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting Covid-19 while travelling.
The package of measures that will need to be adopted will consist of tried and tested processes and technology as well as innovations new to the airport environment. Concepts under review as part of the Heathrow trials include: UV sanitation, which could be used to quickly and efficiently sanitise security trays (who is picturing Donald Trump’s infamous speech right now?) facial recognition thermal screening technology to accurately track body temperature; and contact-free security screening equipment to reduce person-to-person contact.
Before any new measures are rolled out across the airport, they will be reviewed against Heathrow’s three tests to ensure that they are medically grounded, build consumer confidence and practical for airports to deliver.
The first of these trials will be a temperature screening technology which uses camera detection systems capable of monitoring the temperatures of people moving through the airport. These passenger-facing trials will first be conducted in the airport’s immigration halls. If successful, the equipment will then be rolled out to departures, connections and colleague search areas. The trials will begin in the next two weeks in Terminal 2.
Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: “Aviation is the cornerstone of the UK economy, and to restart the economy, the Government needs to help restart aviation. The UK has the world’s third largest aviation sector offering the platform for the Government to take a lead in agreeing a Common International Standard for aviation health with our main trading partners. This Standard is key to minimising transmission of Covid-19 across borders, and the technology we are trialling at Heathrow could be part of the solution.”
Should the government be doing more to help prevent an aviation “death spiral”?
Yesterday I listened to the House of Commons Transport Committee reference above and there was an overriding theme – the government need to be showing far more leadership to help the aviation sector – not just for airlines but to protect consumers as well.
The people who contributed to the session were:
ABTA and Simon Clader spoke about the issues facing airlines and travel agents in processing refunds and called on the government to help. Travel agents are now relying on suppliers returning money before they can process refunds and it is virtually impossible for them to comply with the 14 day refund retirement under law. Equally, airlines are all behaving differently. Mainly they are trying to avoid having to pay refunds but many such as Ryanair are right on the edge of breaking the law in refusing refunds for an indeterminate length of time. Yet the government has done little to help with the situation. Understandably they are facing bigger issues, but as we begin to look at how we get out of lockdown and restore the economy, aviation is a vital sector to the economy.
The airlines again felt that not enough was being done to both help and regulate with both BA and Virgin cited as examples of how job losses are already starting even before the end of the government’s furlough scheme. There was an interesting quote about one comment about the government helping a “billionaire” rescue his airline from the Heathrow CEO. He said that refusing a loan to Virgin because of Richard Branson was “cutting off your nose to spite your face” given both the resulting job losses, the withdrawal from Gatwick and its impact as well as the lack of competition that would leave in UK aviation.
BALPA the pilots union has already called for the government to step in
Brian Strutton from the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) said:
“The government has not recognised the crisis in aviation and has not done enough to prevent what is now happening: a death spiral that could severely damage UK aviation.”
“Balpa will not stand by and watch the industry crumble – or allow airlines to use this as a chance to make unfair redundancies, or make unnecessary reductions to terms and conditions.
“The government needs to step in now: not only with a package of support, but also to put a proper aviation plan in place, agreed by all stakeholders, to avoid opportunistic attacks on terms and conditions.
“In the meantime there should be no knee-jerk decisions and a moratorium on any job losses.”
There were also strong calls from airlines and airports for a common standard to be drawn across the world about opening borders and how to make air travel safe for the public. I totally agree with this and also agree that countries should be working out a common set of standards of when to open their borders with each other.
The potential of a 14 day quarantine period for entry to the UK was discussed but widely criticised as it would kill tourism completely just as aviation begins to recover. Screening passengers was seen as the way forward. They also agreed that social distancing is pretty much impossible on an aircraft in an effective way. It would also be unsustainable long term.
There was also discussion around APD, the UK’s high departure tax and whether that should be scrapped. As APD is touted as a “green” measure, it was asked whether airlines that are given rescue packages should be given green targets as part of the package. In France for example, they have tied in government help to Air France in terms of their environmental commitment. Air France will not be allowed to operate certain domestic routes where ether is a high-speed train link.
What do you think the government should be doing to help aviation recover or to help consumers affected by cancelled flights? Let us know in the comments below or on social media.