Airports and airlines test new EU safety rules

EU guidelines put together by the bloc’s aviation safety and health agencies will be trialled by seven of Europe’s airport operators and three of its airlines, as the air travel industry restarts.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) has compiled a protocol, on request from the European Commission, to mitigate infection risk and get planes in the sky again.

Spanish airport operator AENA, Athens International Airport, Brussels Airport, Frankfurt Airport, Milan’s airports, Nice Airport and Paris Charles De Gaulle have all signed up to EASA’s safety charter and will trial its recommendations.

Aegean Airlines, easyJet and Wizz Air are on board too. EASA says other firms are welcome to sign up.

The main recommendations made by the EASA-ECDC guidelines are for operators and travel firms to use physical distancing wherever possible and for passengers to wear face masks throughout their journeys.

Travellers are also encouraged not to come to airports if they are suffering from any coronavirus-related symptoms such as fever, cough, sudden loss of smell or shortness of breath.

But the guidelines do not force airlines to implement social-distancing measures on board aircraft. EU officials have instead put their faith in plane air filtration systems and personal protection equipment.

European airlines made it clear that it would be impossible for them to turn a profit if seating plans were forced to observe the same 1.5-2 metre distancing recommended in other scenarios. Some carriers have decided to block out the middle seat on some routes regardless.

Brussels Airport is preparing actively for an expected increase in passenger traffic as soon as intra-European borders open up again. Systematic body temperature controls of the passengers will be set up as from 15 June. The hub at Zaventem is installing thermal cameras that will detect passengers suspected of carrying the coronavirus and alert security staff to anyone that flouts the mask-wearing rule.

Fixed cameras outside the departure hall will flag anyone with a temperature over 38 degrees Celsius, while mobile scanners will be used at arrivals. Anyone not travelling will be denied access to terminal buildings.

The airport’s operators have also revamped queuing systems, installed hand sanitisers and increased the frequency of cleaning shifts to keep toilets and trolleys free of contaminants. A disinfection robot has also been deployed to clean the floors.