Europe’s airlines and airports have joined the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to harmonise and promote protocols for safe air travel during the Covid-19 pandemic.
EASA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued a series of health protocols and guidance for aviation on May 20 to ensure protection of passengers and crews against Covid-19.
An EASA system for monitoring implementation and providing feedback followed on May 26.
Airline associations including Airlines for Europe (A4E), Iata, the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) and the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) signed an agreement to promote the protocols to industry, government and travellers this week amid a widespread failure to coordinate measures.
In a joint statement, the associations said: “It is essential operations are marked by consistent implementation of passenger safety procedures.”
However, not all airlines are strictly following the EASA protocols which, aside from enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures, call on airlines to restrict cabin baggage and minimise cabin service.
Ryanair has urged passengers to minimise check-in luggage in favour of cabin bags, while Wizz has continued to operate a retail trolley service on flights.
The cabin baggage restriction is aimed to prevent crowding and queuing as boarding passengers try to find spaces for bags in overhead compartments. As a consequence, many airlines are operating without overhead bins in use.
The EASA guidance states airlines “should minimise the amount of hand luggage taken into the cabin to expedite the boarding and disembarking procedure . . . Operators should promote the carriage of luggage in cargo compartments”.
When the UK Department for Transport incorporated the same policy into its guidance to airlines and airports in June, Ryanair dismissed it as “more nonsensical advice”.
Ryanair is a leading member of the A4E group.
The EASA guidelines were issued ahead of safety guidance published by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which is broadly the same.
US carriers have gone further than the EASA/ICAO guidelines by blocking out middle seats on aircraft rows – a move which has proved popular among passengers but drawn criticism from Iata.
Delta Air Lines chief Ed Bastian confirmed last week that the carrier would keep middle seats empty through to the end of September “and beyond”.
A4E managing director Thomas Reynaert said a harmonised approach “continues to prove challenging” for airlines and passengers, as governments “implement differing measures”.
But he said: “This agreement promotes cohesion in Europe and will ensure the most effective protocols are in place as passenger numbers rise.”
Iata regional vice-president for Europe Rafael Schvartzman said: “This mutual cooperation agreement with EASA will promote a coordinated implementation of the guidelines.”
EBAA secretary-general Athar Husain Khan insisted a return to normal for travel “hinges on harmonised safety and operational guidelines for passengers and aviation operators”.
EASA executive director Patrick Ky said: “Consistent implementation of the guidelines is critical to rebuilding passenger confidence.
“It is important national authorities play their part in ensuring the guidelines are followed and avoid unilaterally introducing measures.
“All industry players need to follow the same guidelines to create a safe environment.”
Airports association ACI Europe signed a similar agreement with EASA on July 17, and established a monitoring system allowing airports to feedback information to EASA.
ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec said: “This is the standard Europe’s airports are following.”
EASA reported more than 60 organisations had signed up to monitor implementation of the guidelines.
Ky said: “The pledge to contribute to the monitoring of the protocol implementation ensures we have the feedback loop necessary to refine the guidelines.”