Safety Onboard: What are aircraft operators doing to protect passengers and crew during Covid-19?

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For commercial airlines and charter aircraft the necessity to increase safety, health, and cleaning protocols is imperative, as the thought of traveling on a long-haul flight is now daunting with new concerns of whether the person a row over is sick. Aviation medical services provider, MedAire’s APAC General Manager Samuel Chauffaille put our minds at ease, as he discusses the strict measures both commercial and private operators are implementing to ensure the safety of all passengers during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

“At MedAire, our medical experts have very clear protocols on how to identify [sick] passengers, isolate those passengers, the type of equipment to use to deal with that situation, the message to give to the rest of the passengers and so on,” explains Chauffaille. “And they’re making provisions for specials places in an aircraft. Now part of the routine is to reserve front and last row seats and leave those empty to provide for such an incident moving forward.”

Because crew on board are not medical professionals, they also have the ability to call a provider, like MedAire, and speak with a doctor to guide them through each step – going through the symptoms and identifying if someone is at risk of being infected with Covid-19. They’ll then be advised on how to manage the entire situation on board, not just how to handle that single passenger.

Long before Covid-19 and certainly well after, there has and will be a necessity for this type of service. Passengers fall ill on flights, with chest pains or other major issues that airlines and operators have had to handle. Often those situations can be handled onboard, but other times end in an emergency landing.

“Crew our trained on how to deal with such type of situation so that we know how to manage initially the passenger. Onboard the aircraft, there is specific equipment to help deal with any type of situation. And you have access to medical doctors 24/7 that the crew can call. Our doctors are then going to make a decision and they’re going to make a recommendation, not a decision because the captain is the one who decides.”

Doctor recommendations are made considering a number of factors: flight time, remaining flight time, patient situation, can further assistance wait, or is it crucial, aircraft location, aircraft type, landing destination. These are just a few of the factors to be considered in such a situation.

Chauffaille further explains: “A discussion will happen between the captain and our doctor, and our doctor will make the recommendation to divert and they will advise which airport to divert based on the local health care facilities accessible to save that passenger. And then the captain will either follow or look at a different option. This is a very interesting process; very complex and time-sensitive.”

From a liability standpoint a flight diversion, although lifesaving, may cause an inconvenience to potentially hundreds of other passengers which may ultimately be very costly for airlines and private jet operators.

“At MedAire we help our clients in that our doctors are medical aviation experts. So, they have all the proper licensing to make those recommendations. Additionally, everything is recorded, which means all advice and recommendations given can be used by the court to understand what was done from a medical standpoint and what the recommendation was. We make sure that from a medical standpoint, the airline or the operators have done the right thing to potentially save that patient’s life.”

“Sometimes, unfortunately, the situation is such that the person cannot be saved, but at least with all the tracing of the information and the recordings, we’re able to help airlines and operators go back to court and prove that everything was done following very strict medical protocols.”

MedAire is now preparing for the future changes after Covid-19, not only for passengers but also for the crew.

“There are a lot of things changing and some areas where MedAire has been helping airline operators,” explains Chauffaille. “One new point to now consider is identifying the airport transportation. When you land, which type of transportation do you use to go to a hotel? Which hotels are you looking at? All of this was already considered before COVID. Now, clients see risk associated when you take local transport or go into a local hotel. That risk is increasingly becoming prevalent and we have a database of very specific detailed information for every single airport around the world to help airlines and operators make the right choice, when it comes to the medical and the secondary risk that their current passenger face.”

“We are able to advise them and guide them into some of the recommended places that they should be that you should be looking at, to reduce the risk. And that also means working with airlines, for example, on the type of flight they are doing. Is a layover needed? Can they do turn around flights? Do they need to bring another set of crews onboard? So that’s some of the things that are happening right now. Airlines have completely reduced their layover and are just trying to do a turnaround flight to minimize the risk of something happening to their crew while on the ground.”

Overall, it’s an extremely volatile environment right now, with changes occurring almost daily, particularly in aviation.

“We’ve really helped our clients to understand the magnitude and the impact of all the changes and what that means moving forward with their operations. Flights are going to resume, and some are already starting. We are trying to help all our clients navigating this complex situation, especially around the medical and the security risk associated with their operation.”

For more information about MedAire please click here

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