“Testing +” can kick-start aviation

The aviation industry is starting to push for COVID testing as an alternative to quarantine.  At SimpliFlying we are advocating that it adopts “Testing +”.  This combines tests on or before departure with a number of other measures.

We believe that by doing so, the success rate of stopping COVID -positive passengers from flying can be increased from 90% (for a testing only strategy, combined with temperature checks) to 95%+

The idea of testing airline passengers is starting to gain momentum, moving from the industry lobbying for it, to it getting mainstream media support and attention.

For example, in the UK, two major newspapers have started supporting the idea.  Last week the Daily Telegraph weighed in on the debate by launching a ‘Test4Travel’ campaign.  

Meanwhile today’s Daily Mail front page splash carries the headline, “The Great Air Revolt Takes off!”, and talks about MPs and business leaders demanding action to get the country flying again.

This comes as the country’s Transport Minister, Grant Shapps has been on the airwaves claiming that testing is not a “silver bullet.”  In particular, Shapps constantly questions the ability of tests to spot pre-symptomatic passengers.

Testing isn’t fool-proof. Neither is quarantine

Shapps is right, testing is not 100% effective – but neither is quarantine.

As cases in Australia and New Zealand have shown, even where a country puts arriving passengers in quarantine hotels, COVID can still spread into the community.  Meanwhile a home quarantine system is even more porous.

In the UK, the police has apparently been dealing with thousands of instances of quarantine being breached.

So how effective is testing? Researchers from the University of Hawaii estimated that an entry system for Hawaii that combines temperature checks at the airport and COVID tests no more than 72 hours before departure would stop up to 90% of infected passengers entering the islands.

That would mean the other 10% would still get through, but the authors thought that this could be mitigated through mask wearing, bio safety and social distancing measures and of course track and trace.

Many will say 90% isn’t enough.  So how can we raise that figure to 95%+?

The solution is Testing +

This involves testing being the centre-piece of entry regimes, complimented by other measures. This includes:

1 – Pre-travel authorizations and screening, such as the electronic ESTA type system Jamaica (among others) uses.

2 – Testing on departure in every instance.  Testing on departure means the onus for quarantining passengers is not on the destination, and it increases both passenger and staff confidence. It could be a way for airlines to again sell the middle seat.

3 – Narrowing the testing window from 72 hours to no more than 24 hours before departure – the shorter that window is, the better the result.

4 – If you do that, testing needs to be cheaper (<$50pp) and more accessible, so done either in the vicinity of the airport (making the terminals themselves ‘clean’ zones), or at a High Street drugstore / pharmacy chain (such as the proposed British Airways / Boots link). 

5 – Selective testing on arrival, for instance from high risk countries, or spot checks.  Those tests can be immediate, or after five days.

6 – Bio-safety measures, which every major airline and airport already adopts, remain in place. 

7 – Track and trace, whether that’s the automated text message the island of Jersey sends out for 14 days (which you need to reply to with ‘WELL’), or the app you have to download in (for example) the UAE.

8 – We propose an industry level global registry of approved tests for aviation – where the accuracy has been validated by a credible third party organisation, as well as a sytem of ensuring test results can be digitally captured and shared, e.g. via airline apps.

Finally, it is not realistic to expect Governments to do all the heavy lifting.  Aviation unfortunately is only one industry sector among many right now trying to get official help and attention.

Our suggestion is for proof of concept trials to be rolled out such as the London Heathrow Airport and WestJet / Vancouver ones, and for the positive results to be used to show Governments that this will work.

The costs of the tests themselves would obviously be passed onto the passenger, which is why it is so important to use newer and cheaper tests coming on stream, while not sacrificing accuracy.

The above article is a summary of a presentation delivered as part of the first of a series of COVID-AV Monthly briefings.  If you missed the briefing and would like a copy, or if you’d like to discuss Testing+ in more detail, then please email dirk AT simpliflying.com


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