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Cabin Safety Bulletin 21 - Return to line operations during COVID-19 pandemic
Date of publication:
24 July 2020
On this page
This bulletin applies to:
- All operators of Australian registered aircraft
- Cabin crew members
This bulletin describes an example of an acceptable means, but not the only means, of demonstrating compliance with regulations and standards. On its own this bulletin does not change, create, amend, or permit deviations from regulatory requirements, nor does it establish minimum standards.
A cabin safety bulletin is an advisory document that alerts, educates and makes recommendations about cabin safety matters. Recommendations in this bulletin are not mandatory.
The purpose of this bulletin is to highlight to operators the importance of applying all aspects of their safety management system (SMS), with emphasis on the management of change in implementing amended processes; procedures and training, prior to returning to operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This bulletin also provides the most recent health and safety protocol developed by the Australian Government Department of Health; the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO); European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) applicable to operators; crew members and passengers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way an operator will conduct its operations as travel restrictions around the world are gradually lifted. In preparing for the resumption of line activities, operators should take time to assess the risks associated with operating in such an uncertain environment. Crew members may have to work to new or modified procedures under considerable pressure.
In response to the easing of travel restrictions, the Australian Government has worked collaboratively with the aviation sector to develop the Domestic Passenger Journey Protocol.
Other recently developed guidelines have been created by the EASA and the ECDC, which provide specific aviation health safety protocol on how operators can ensure the health and safety of passengers, as well as the staff and crew by maintaining safe and secure operations, whilst minimising the risk of virus transmission. Operators are encouraged to access this information to gain an insight into best practise from the point at which a passenger arrives at the airport until such time as their journey is completed. You can access a full copy of this guidance on the EASA website.
Some of the most recent guidance created for the protection of crew members and published by the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) and Australian Government Department of Health has been compiled below.
While off duty at home, crew members should monitor themselves for fever (temperature exceeding 37.5 degrees Celsius) and other symptoms of COVID-19.
Reporting fit for duty
Crew members must not report for training or flying duties if they:
- Are within a mandated period of isolation or quarantine related to previous travel and/or duty.
- Have tested positive for COVID-19 regardless of symptoms evident.
- Know that they have been exposed to a person having, or suspected of having, symptoms of COVID-19.
- Are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
- Have recovered from COVID-19 symptoms but have not been assessed by the local Health Authority or the airline’s occupational health program.
- Crew members should monitor themselves for fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.
- Crew members should take their temperature at least twice per day during duty periods and at any time they feel unwell (operators may need to consider the provision of additional thermometers to be made available to the crew to accomplish this efficiently).
- Crew members should stay at home or in their hotel room, notify their employer, and not report for work if they develop a fever, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19, and should not return to work until cleared to do so by the employer occupational health program and/or company designated aircrew medical examiner (DAME)/general practitioner.
- Are within a mandated period quarantine related to previous travel and/or duty.
- Positive test for COVID-19 regardless of symptoms evident.
- Know that they have been exposed to a person showing symptoms of COVID-19.
- Are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.
- Have recovered from COVID-19 symptoms but have not been assessed by the operator’s health authority.
- Cabin crew who are in contact with a passenger suspected to be infected should not visit the flight deck unless operationally necessary.
- While limiting the number and frequency of physical flight crew checks, an alternative method of checking on flight crew welfare such as regular interphone calls should be implemented.
- The use of PPE should not impact a crew member’s ability to carry out normal, abnormal, and emergency safety procedures, such as the donning of oxygen masks, carrying out firefighting procedures utilising protective breathing equipment, making a clear announcement via the PA system to passengers in the event the aircraft experiences a rapid depressurisation, etc.
NOTE: the use of PPE should not be an impediment to passengers’ ability to respond to crew member instructions during an abnormal or emergency situation for example, removing a non-medical or medical mask in a rapid depressurisation.
- Safety demonstration equipment should not be shared to the extent feasible to reduce the likelihood of virus transmission. If the equipment must be shared, an alternate means of demonstration, without the equipment, should be considered or the equipment should be thoroughly sanitised between uses.
- Provide sufficient quantities of cleaning and disinfectant products (e.g. disinfectant wipes) that are effective against COVID-19 for use during flight.
- Consider providing face covering to crew members for routine use when on duty, if these do not interfere with required PPE, job tasks and when it is difficult to maintain the recommended physical distance from co-workers or passengers at all times.
Further information on the purpose of, and risks associated with, using PPE can be found in the IATA Guidance for Cabin Operations during and post pandemic.
Further guidance relating to Flight Operations during and post pandemic is available on the IATA website.
Use of lavatories
- Ideally, one or more lavatories should be reserved for crew use, in order to limit the potential for infection from passengers.
Crew rest compartments
- To minimise any possibility of cross infection, where pillows, cushions, sheets, blankets, or duvets are provided, these should not be used by multiple persons unless coverings are laundered or changed.
- Some operators may issue each crew member with their own provisions and the cabin crew members are responsible for ensuring that they are removed and bagged after use.
- Other operators provide bulk loading for crew rest area bedding items. Where this is the case, crew should install their own bedding items before their rest period and remove them hygienically afterwards.
- Increase the frequency of routine cleaning training devices and other training aids, or equipment used during training. Cleaning products used should be compatible with COVID-19 disinfectants.
Further information produced by CART can be found by accessing the ICAO website.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
The Australian Government Department of Health has provided recommendations for crew members operating international sectors:
- Passengers wear masks for the duration of the flight, in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions; this is also recommended for staff during interactions with passengers to reduce the risk of transmission. Commensurate with this recommendation, the following applies:
- an amendment to procedures in the event of a depressurisation when face masks are worn by crew members, including emergency oxygen mask donning procedures, i.e. the first action is to remove the COVID-face mask, then don the emergency oxygen mask
- cabin crew pre-flight safety briefings to passengers need to clearly demonstrate the removal of the COVID-face mask before donning emergency oxygen masks
- an amendment to pre-flight safety briefing announcements/audio visual presentations, and potentially safety information briefing cards to reflect removal of COVID-face masks before donning of emergency oxygen masks.
- PPE should be fitted and worn properly, with training provided to crew members on appropriate use.
- Crew should wear gloves when handling passenger items or touching potentially contaminated items. Gloves should then be removed or washed, and hands washed after these activities.
- Designate an area such as the galley, as a clean area, one-way traffic only – clean PPE enters galley and moves one way looping around in a horseshoe direction to remove PPE and dispose.
- No PPE to be worn in crew area unless freshly applied and clean.
- If a crew member is required to assist a passenger (and their close personal contacts) who is ill, the crew member should:
- wear a surgical mask, disposable full-length gown, gloves, and eye protection
- remove any PPE carefully (without touching the front of mask, gown or outside of gloves) to avoid self-contamination, hygiene hand immediately after removing PPE.
- dispose of used PPE carefully in biohazard bags and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser immediately after tying the bag tightly closed.
- wear gloves to clean then disinfect surrounding surfaces with a broad-spectrum disinfectant and use alcohol-based hand rub after removing gloves.
Further information regarding managing health risks on international flights can be found on the Department of Health website.
Commensurate with the above, operators will need to evaluate how crew members can be informed of recently introduced containment measures and/or that which requires training.
Examples of where crew members should be provided with documented procedures and further training include, but not limited to:
1. Unruly/Disruptive Passengers
- Identification and management of unruly/disruptive passengers who do not comply with essential aviation public health and safety measures.
2. PPE - Depressurisation
- Management of PPE such as face masks worn by crew members, will need to incorporate oxygen mask donning procedures in the event of a depressurisation, i.e. the first action is to remove the COVID-face mask, then don the emergency oxygen mask.
- Management of the removal of face makes worn by passengers in a depressurisation.
NOTE: Cabin crew pre-flight safety briefings will need to clearly demonstrate the removal of the face mask before donning emergency oxygen masks. As such, there will be the need to amend pre-flight safety demonstration announcements/audio visual demonstrations, and potentially safety information briefing cards.
Current modification to processes and procedures
Any modification to processes and procedures, should be undertaken in consultation with government medical and regulatory advice; in concert with conducting a full risk assessment, supporting any changes with appropriate documentation and/or crew training.
Return to normal operations
As the pandemic recedes due to the release of a vaccine or requisite treatment, operators should ensure changes to interim processes and procedures have been prosecuted by their SMS to assist with the transition to normal operations.
Operators are encouraged to liaise with the Cabin Safety Inspectorate should further information be needed.
- Australian Government Department of Health Advice on managing the health risks from COVID-19 on international flights 6 May20 Version 1.0
- Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) - Staying Safe during an Aircraft Depressurisation Passenger Information Bulletin, December 2008
- European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) - COVID-19 Aviation Health Safety Protocol Operational Guidelines for the management of air passengers and aviation personnel in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic Issue date: 21/05/2020 Issue no: 1.1
- IATA - Guidance for Crew Health Precautions During Pandemic Edition 1 – 28 May 2020
- IATA - Guidance for Cabin Operations During and Post Pandemic Edition 3 – 5 June 2020
- IATA - Guidance for Flight Operations During and Post Pandemic Edition 2 – 19 June 2020
- ICAO Handbook for Cabin Crew Recurrent Training during COVID-19
- ICAO – Civil Aviation Recovery Taskforce Take Off Guidance
- World Health Organisation - Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks