How The Covid-19 Virus is Reshaping Health and Safety of Business Aviation

Airports and FBOs are reimagining every aspect and touchpoint of their operations to ensure a clean, safe and healthy environment for their clients. But many are grappling with the dilemma of if it is possible to make these changes without spoiling the luxurious atmosphere FBOs and private airports are renowned for.

Almost a year on from when the devasting pandemic began to spread across the globe, sectors everywhere have had to adapt and use new technologies to ensure they can return to a new normal as quickly as possible.

Although business aviation was not immune to the impact of the pandemic, many FBOs have been operating in some way during this period. Staff have been practicing social distancing, wearing masks and following health guidance from their respective governments, hand sanitizers can be found on every flat surface and deep cleaning of all areas has increased. However, there is an argument that this still isn’t enough the slow down the virus.

“Individuals can minimize their potential exposure by maintaining good hand hygiene and being careful not to touch their face and mask until they have thoroughly washed their hands. But it is not enough on its own,” says Tautvydas Karitonas, R&D manager from decontamination specialists Inivos, who is an expert in infection control.

“It is essential that cleaning staff and cabin crew whilst on the aircraft take proactive steps to mitigate risk for high touch point areas. At the start of each day, they should complete an assessment of all potential transmission risks and schedule regular, proactive decontamination to eradicate pathogens.”

The National Air Transport Association published guidance to FBOs and other business aviation ground handlers in March to help them manage risks and take extra safety precautions during the Covid-19 pandemic. The document describes operational steps management should take to minimize the chance of infection spreading to facilities, as well how to quarantine and the best practice for cleaning aircraft. Suggestions include ensuring individuals wear rubber gloves when cleaning and disinfecting the facility and the surrounding areas. The guidelines also state that disinfectant / antiseptic solutions should be applied hourly to high-risk, high-traffic areas and items. Along with following the guidance from the NATA, many FBOs have also developed their own updated cleaning standards since the outbreak.

“In March we introduced our CleanCheck Standard,” says Scott Cutshall, senior vice president of business operations for USA-based aviation services and FBO provider Clay Lacy. “It was developed by a cross-functional team of experts across our FBO, flight operations, facilities, inflight service, and maintenance departments. This standard was later certified as meeting the NATA Safety 1st Clean standard developed which has been accepted by FBOs across the country.” 

Chiara Dorigotti, CEO of SEA Prime in Milan, Italy said, “We have provided staff with anti-contagion protective devices and have introduced protocols for deep cleaning and sanitizing of spaces and surfaces, including the installation of sanitizing gel dispensers in our terminals.”

Changing infrastructure

It’s not just the cleaning procedures that have changed due to Coronavirus. The infrastructure of some FBOs and airports have been substantially altered to account for the new way of traveling.

“Milano Prime at both Linate and Malpensa have been among the first FBOs to implement infrastructure changes before standards and rules had been announced by European and local authorities,” says Dorigotti.

“Key infrastructure changes include the physical separation of flows, thermal scanners to measure temperatures of those accessing the terminals, shielding screens in common areas, concierge, security and authorities’ desks to further limit contacts and maintain social distancing.

“As an airport manager, we will keep providing safe travel and operations for passengers, operators and employees with health control measures likely to become permanent in the years to come.”

“Touchless fever detection and mask detection technology will become one of the key safety measures at all entry points,” comments Vinod Bijlani, artificial intelligence and internet of things practice lead, Hewlett Packard Enterprises. “Combining thermal imaging with video analytics and AI techniques provides a robust system to identify individuals, their body temperature and whether they are wearing masks.

“Skin temperature as measured by thermal cameras is not always an accurate indicator of body temperature. As an example, the skin temperature of passengers alighting from air-conditioned cars is lower than their actual body temperature. Immediate temperature screening would result in inaccurate readings that may fail to identify a fever. To enhance fever detection, facial and skin temperature data is sent to AI models which track temperature information and any anomaly with historical data is flagged,” says Bijlani.

“While thermal scanners may not be the ultimate defense, the screening is a basic step toward safety. Researchers are working on breathalyzer tests which can detect Covid-19 and other viruses. This has a potential of becoming the game changer. Breathonix, a spin-off company from the National University of Singapore, has developed an easy-to-use breath test to detect Covid-19 within a minute.”

London Biggin Hill Airport has opened a Covid-19 testing center on site, available to all arriving and departing passengers. The Mansi Testing Suite offers four different types of test provided by G16, a highly experienced Covid-19 testing organization. These include PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Testing, LAMP
(Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification) testing, antigen testing and antibody testing. Results are available in as quickly as 15 minutes, depending which type is selected.