Plan ‘a major step forward in restarting Canada's air travel industry,’ say groups
The federal government has released Canada’s Flight Plan for Navigating COVID-19, which is the foundation for the country’s current and future efforts to reduce the public health risks of COVID-19 while travelling by aircraft.
“Canada is a large country and safe and secure air travel is critical for Canadians to connect with loved ones and for those who rely on it to support their businesses. Implementing Canada’s Flight Plan reinforces our ongoing commitment to protect public health and minimize the COVID-19 risks associated with air travel,” said Marc Garneau, minister of transport. “This comprehensive plan aligns the actions of government and industry partners to the best practices emerging around the world to protect passengers and air industry workers from COVID-19.”
The action plan puts in place a multi-layered system of safety measures to support public health by protecting air travellers and air industry workers from COVID-19.
Key changes apply to all aspects of air travel, in airports and aircraft, including:
- travel restrictions
- mandatory use of face masks for passengers and crew
- mandatory health checks by air carriers prior to passenger boarding
- temperature screening at the busiest Canadian airports and at points of origin for all incoming flights to Canada
- restricted services and passenger movement during flights
- enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols and practices
Measures will also be implemented in airports, including:
- enhanced air conditioning and filtration systems
- frequent cleaning of high-touch areas
- new touchless technologies to scan boarding passes
- physical distancing measures.
The government noted that modern passenger aircrafts also offer a unique environment with design characteristics that reduce the risk of viral transmission. The air is exchanged at a high rate, with HEPA filtration in most large commercial aircraft. Further, the potential spread of the virus between rows is reduced by the high seatbacks and the fact that almost all passengers are seated in the same direction.
“These measures prioritize the safety and security of travellers and industry employees, and have positioned Canada as an international leader in reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19 while travelling by air,” said the government. “To date, the Government of Canada is not aware of any cases attributed to passenger-to-passenger transmission on a flight to or from Canada. However, work continues with the provinces and territories to strengthen contact-tracing processes to reduce and quantify the risk of COVID-19 transmission during air travel.”
The plan uses the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART) Report and Take-Off Guidance as a reference point to identify touchpoints, considerations and recommended practices to maximize the safety and security of air travel both in Canada and across the world. It will be refined as the government learns more about COVID-19, and as international best practices evolve to ensure safety and efficiency of the Canadian aviation system in the months and years to come, said the government.
Major step forward
Air Canada and WestJet both welcomed the plan, saying that it is a “major step forward in restarting Canada's air travel industry by confirming the country's biosafety standards.”
“By aligning the Canadian aviation sector with best international practices for customer health and safety, the Government of Canada has now established the necessary science-based preconditions that assure customers of the highest levels of safety for air travel and for reopening Canadian aviation across provinces and to the world,” said Calin Rovinescu, president and CEO of Air Canada.
“Safety has always been above all at WestJet and we welcome the implementation of Flight Plan,” said Ed Sims, The WestJet Group president and CEO. “We remain committed to working with the Government of Canada to ensure all protocols are consistent with the best practices and advice available to us from around the world.”
Even airports were happy with Transport Canada’s work.
“Flight Plan represents the commitment of Canada's aviation industry and Transport Canada to introduce innovative programs and policies that prioritize the health and well-being of airport workers and passengers in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Deborah Flint, president and CEO, Greater Toronto Airports Authority.
“We applaud the work of Transport Canada's Flight Plan and the biosafety standards set out to protect travellers at every step of the journey,” said Tamara Vrooman, president and CEO, Vancouver Airport Authority. “We're pleased to see how this aligns with many programs already underway in our industry to ensure passenger health and safety in response to COVID-19.”
In April, the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC) asked for immediate financial aid from the Canadian government as the aviation industry continues to face unprecedented challenges amid the pandemic.
Previously, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program has helped Air Canada and WestJet rehire thousands of workers laid off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.