CJI Americas 2020: ‘Air travel has been very successfully de-risked by the industry’


The Covid-19 vaccine and herd immunity as ways to control the virus are a long way off, says Dr Simon May, MD, Flightcare Global. Mass distribution of the vaccine can be expected late in 2021.

The best ways for the industry to restart private and commercial aviation are if governments allow passengers to travel between regions more freely and increased passenger confidence.

The risk of catching coronavirus during a flight on a commercial airline is very low, says May.

The whole process of air travel has been very successfully de-risked by the industry.”

Two main deterrents to travel are the fear of catching the virus and quarantine measures different countries.

Quarantine measures are a major barrier to industry restart, said May.  He added: 80% of travellers would not travel if a 14-day quarantine period was mandatory at either, the port of destination or arrival.

Despite this, the transmission rates from flights are not that high. International Air Transport Association (IATA) research shows only 44 cases of Covid-19 were reported and confirmed in connection with flights.

The data also reveals that if 90% of cases went unreported, the risk still remains very low:  one in 2.7m passengers.

Most of those 44 cases happened before mask wearing or other de-risking measures were put in place. So, actually the risk now is probably significantly lower on commercial aircraft.”

The risk is even lower in a business aviation setting, where there is “natural social distancing” at FBOs and onboard aircraft.

Risk is pretty low for crew. They are probably more likely to catch the virus when they are going about their normal lives,” said May.

And now that there has been a breakthrough with the vaccine, there is reason to be more optimistic than before.

He believes that leisure and private aviation are likely to lead the recovery. A combination of testing, mask wearing, social distancing and advanced contact tracing will reduce the need for quarantine in the meantime.


The mRNA Vaccine

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which has proven 90% efficiency is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. Although it is good news for the industry, it is the first mRNA vaccine to be developed for humans.

May said its need to be delivered in two doses and storage at extremely low temperatures are two caveats.

There is also a lot of interest in health in aviation because of this pandemic. It will continue to be topical in the future.”  

Commenting on US President-elect Joe Biden’s promise of increased testing in the US, May said testing is only one of three essential pillars: test, trace and isolate.

You’ve got to have all three really, including testing of those not showing symptoms.”

Countries in the northern hemisphere are likely to see increased Covid-19 cases, as well as influenza as the winter months come closer.