The aviation industry has done well so far in ensuring that safety has not been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, however it must remain vigilant on all technical and human factors affecting flight safety, while consistently applying and improving its processes to ensure health safety, according to speakers at this year’s EASA annual safety conference.
Meanwhile, sweeping changes to reduce the industry’s long-term environmental impact are gaining pace, despite the COVID-19 crisis, and aviation is starting to see some clear paths to becoming greener, the panellists explained. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) held this year’s conference virtually, with well over 1,000 attendees.
EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky set the scene for the discussions by outlining how EASA had acted to safeguard the industry and its employees in response to the pandemic, outlining measures taken to mandate cleaning of aircraft and special approvals issued to allow the transport of cargo in passenger seats. By May, EASA working with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) had laid down measures for health-safe travel during the pandemic.
Ky made clear that, despite the very challenging situation, safe flying remained critically important for the industry. Passengers would simply not accept lapses in safety due to the pandemic. “We need now more than ever to be vigilant on aviation safety,” he said.
Johann Friedrich Colsman, the Director General for Civil Aviation at the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, noted that there were many issues that will need to be tackled at European level including capacity issues and sustainability. The lessons learned from the current crisis would also help to make the aviation system more flexible and more sustainable, he said.
“Our goal must be to restore the confidence of passengers and to reach a new normal in aviation,” Colsman told the conference.
Johan Vanneste, President and CEO of Cologne Bonn Airport, offered some insight into how the passenger/cargo airport had coped with the crisis, noting that some new and unexpected safety threats had emerged: for example an increase in wildlife incidents as the large wildlife reserve near the airport adjusted to the drop in daytime passenger flights.
Despite the financial pressures, the airport had not saved on safety measures such as emergency service support, Vanneste said: “Crisis or no crisis, safety is always paramount”.
Panel discussions addressed the recent experiences of restoring operations safely after the pandemic and lessons learned in that process. One issue raised was the lack of data to help understand safety issues arising as a result of the pandemic, as there is insufficient history of such events. The panel discussions underlined that the top-down approach to safety that is captured in the Safety Management Systems remains of paramount importance to maintain the safety level.
In a separate session, the EASA Data4Safety programme was presented, a voluntary and collaborative programme which enables the collection of massive amounts of safety data to provide data driven, integrated and proactive safety risk management. Pooling the data allows for a holistic view of safety in Europe.
With respect to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol (AHSP) which lays down the guidelines for travel during the pandemic, panellists reported a growing understanding for the measures amongst passengers. All panellists said they had adopted a “no tolerance” policy for those not wearing masks. The panellists said it was clear that factors, such as quarantine requirements, played a bigger role in passengers’ reluctance to fly than concern about contracting COVID-19 during air travel.
Setting aside the pressing matter of the pandemic, the conference also looked at the ability of the aviation industry to recover greener from this crisis. Different actors in the industry – manufacturers, airports, airlines and air traffic management -- each illustrated how they were adopting sustainable processes and moving towards products that were more environmentally friendly.
Piotr Samson, Director General of the Polish Civil Aviation Authority and Chair of the EASA Management Board, concluded the conference with the observation that the current devastation of the aviation industry did however open up the prospects for change, through a shift to new technologies and more environmentally friendly and efficient planes.
“Aviation will emerge stronger and greener from the current crisis,” Samson said.