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News Article

Aviation Needs Fast, Accurate, Affordable COVID-19 Testing

By Alicia Arizpe | Wed, 09/23/2020 - 11:32

The global aviation industry is working to recover from the worst crisis in its history, which has grounded most of the world’s fleets and led several airlines to seek bankruptcy protection. However, these efforts have been hindered by the mixed response from each government regarding the operation of their borders and their requirements for international travelers. As countries reopen borders closed earlier this year, some have imposed quarantines on all those traveling from abroad, while other countries are considering closing their borders a second time as COVID-19 cases mount up again.

These circumstances did not help the aviation industry, which currently operates at 8 percent of its 2019 levels regarding international flights. Airlines have strengthened their safety procedures by urging passengers to wear masks at all times, to avoid travel if presenting COVID-19 symptoms and to take a temperature check before boarding, among many other measures, but there is still concern among passengers of the safety of traveling during this troubling period. However, IATA explains that most passengers support testing before flights, with 84 percent voting it should be required of all travelers and 88 percent claiming that they would be willing to undergo a test before their flight. Passenger testing, however, is reliant on the development of a fast, accurate and systematic COVID-19 testing procedure that is both affordable and easy to operate.

The main challenge to test all passengers before flight lays in developing a reliable, accurate and fast procedure that can be safely scaled to be applied to all passengers before their flight. At this point, there are several tests for COVID-19 but they have their drawbacks. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is considered the golden standard for COVID-19 testing as it is highly sensitive and specific but it is also expensive and time consuming. On the other hand, antigen tests can give a result within 15 minutes and are much less expensive but their sensitivity is much lower than PCR tests, which has risen concerns among critics that it could fail to detect infections. For that reason, IATA and many other organizations in and out of the aviation industry are calling for the development of a fast and reliable test that would help passengers to feel safe to travel again. “The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic COVID-19 testing of all travelers before departure. This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel,” said Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of IATA. 

Alicia Arizpe Alicia Arizpe Senior Writer