COVID-19 has forced all industries to adapt and improve infection prevention and safety practices. This change has been especially felt in aviation. In a time where it’s often advised to minimize travel and stay put if possible, the aviation industry had to make drastic changes to improve the safety of passengers and staff and to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
To learn more, we spoke with Brett Mannion, President of Aviation at HHS, and discussed the industry before the pandemic, how carriers are improving safety, and the importance of adapting to change.
What was the state of safety in the aviation industry in regards to infection prevention before the COVID-19 pandemic?
“Before the pandemic, there was a lot of focus on aircraft cleanliness, but it was more visual cleanliness rather than infection prevention. I don’t know if people thought much about what true cleanliness meant. As we moved further into the pandemic, cleanliness and infection prevention quickly became the most important topic, because passengers sometimes spend multiple hours in their seats and in a confined area, so they want to make sure that their surroundings are clean and disinfected.”
“When passengers hop on an airplane, they often think if it looks clean then the aircraft must be well-maintained and safe. If passengers get on an airplane and it doesn’t look clean, they question its maintenance and safety. Before COVID-19, there was definitely a focus on cleanliness but not a complete focus on infection prevention and how to keep passengers and staff safe.”
“It really changed the entire outlook and approach to aircraft cleaning and its processes. Cleanliness and disinfection is such an important piece in the aviation industry.”
Was the aviation industry prepared for the pandemic?
“No, not fully prepared, especially early on in the pandemic. I think the industry as a whole adapted fairly quickly but it was certainly not something that was front of mind prior to this happening, just as with most industries.”
How can carriers and facilities prioritize infection prevention and safety?
“A great approach that I saw through this whole process was with a specific carrier. They recognized the potential impact of COVID-19 fairly early on and were the first to take the step to hire an executive-level Chief Health Officer. He evaluates existing processes, develops new processes, and helps mitigate risk through proper preparation. Basically, he helps ensure the safety of passengers and staff. Something like this has never been done before because there wasn’t a big reason for it prior to COVID-19. So, I think they really set the bar by stepping out there early and recognizing that COVID-19 wasn’t going to just go away. It showed that they care enough about their passengers and team members to bring on someone of that level to focus solely on their safety. It really gave the carrier a view they’d never had before with the experience, input, and knowledge from the CHO.”
“Prior to COVID-19, you wouldn’t think that an airline would have a medical doctor on staff, there just wasn’t as much of a reason for it, and now there’s certainly a reason for it. By making it such a high-level position, they’ve ensured that they have a very strong voice within the industry.”
How are turnaround times affected by enhanced cleaning?
“We know that maximizing the utilization of the aircraft in a day is a major priority of carriers. So, over my years in the industry, I’ve seen turn times shrink to where they could get the basics in like picking up bulky trash and wiping down a few surfaces but not a thorough cleaning. Now, that’s more of a focus, and carriers have built time back into the schedules to do that.”
How important is it for carriers or facilities to have a good support services partner?
“It’s extremely important, especially now. Early in this process, carriers didn’t know much about what it really meant to have a clean and disinfected aircraft and have good aircraft services. I spent a lot of time learning carrier’s processes and efficacy of their cleaning. It’s really great to be able to collaborate and use our knowledge that we have from the healthcare space that we’ve occupied and excelled in for so long. We can bring over things from the healthcare setting, like ATP testing, and incorporate that into our aircraft and facility cleaning programs.”
While COVID-19 seems to be ever-evolving, the aviation industry is making leaps and bounds to keep passengers and team members safe. Carriers and facilities have prioritized health and safety by bringing on in-house experts, collaborating with specialized support service partners, and building time back into hectic schedules to ensure cleanliness and disinfection.