Risk of catching Covid-19 on-board aircraft ‘is same as being struck by lightning’

Published: 11 October 2020 - 5 a.m.
By: Aviation Business

Since the start of 2020 there have been 44 cases of Covid-19 reported in which transmission is thought to have been associated with a flight journey.

That is according to a study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which has for a long time be lobbying governments to ease travel restrictions it says is damaging demand for travel and airline businesses.

“With just 44 published cases of potential inflight Covid-19 transmission among 1.2 billion travellers, the risk of contracting the virus on board appears to be in the same category as being struck by lightning,” said Alexandre de Juniac, CEO of IATA.

Dr David Powell, IATA’s medical advisor, said: “The risk of a passenger contracting Covid-19 while on-board appears very low. With only 44 identified potential cases of flight-related transmission among 1.2 billion travellers, that’s one case for every 27 million travellers.

“We recognise that this may be an underestimate but even if 90% of the cases were unreported, it would be one case for every 2.7 million travellers. We think these figures are extremely reassuring. Furthermore, the vast majority of published cases occurred before the wearing of face coverings inflight became widespread.”

The claim rom IATA follows joint publication by Airbus, Boeing and Embraer of separate computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research conducted by each manufacturer in their aircraft. While methodologies differed slightly, each simulation claimed that aircraft airflow systems do control the movement of particles in the cabin, limiting the spread of viruses.

IATA’s data collection, and the results of the separate simulations, align with the low numbers reported in a recently published peer-reviewed study by Freedman and Wilder-Smith in the Journal of Travel Medicine.

Mask-wearing on board was recommended by IATA in June and is a common requirement on most airlines since the subsequent publication and implementation of the Takeoff Guidance by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Bruno Fargeon, Airbus Engineering and the leader of the Airbus Keep Trust in Air Travel Initiative, said: “After multiple, highly-detailed simulations using the most accurate scientific methods available, we have concrete data which reveals the aircraft cabin offers a much safer environment than indoor public spaces.”

De Juniac added: “There is no single silver-bullet measure that will enable us to live and travel safely in the age of Covid-19. But the combination of measures that are being put in place is reassuring travellers the world over that Covid-19 has not defeated their freedom to fly.”

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