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COVID-19 Rapid Testing Can Help our Aviation Sector

Having several aviation association clients, we know first-hand just how devastating COVID-19 has been to the sector.  

Low Risk of Catching COVID-19 on a Commercial Flight

I encounter many people who comment that they will not fly anytime soon because they are very concerned about a severe risk of catching COVID-19.   But is the risk all so severe? This an example of why it is important not to be overcome by the seemingly never-ending stream of fearful messaging we are bombarded with about COVID-19 to the extent of not accurately assessing the probability of a risk occurring. 

In October, a U.S. Department of Defense study reported that risk of exposure to COVID-19 on flights is very low.  Some key points from the study:

  • When seated passengers are wearing masks, an average 0.003% of air particles within the breathing zone around a person’s head are infectious, even when every seat is occupied
  • The study estimated that to receive an infectious dose, a passenger would need to fly 54 hours on a plane with an infectious person

The testing assumed only one infected person on the plane and did not simulate the effects of passenger movement around the cabin.  For these reasons, the accuracy of the study is open to some question.  However, it is very important to note that Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has said that there is little evidence — if any — of COVID-19 transmission among passengers travelling by air.  She said the negligible number of cases reported from flying is likely attributable to the strict cleaning measures that airlines have implemented since the onset of the pandemic.

So taking into consideration the Defence Department Study, Dr. Tam’s observations of little to no evidence of COVID transmission on flights, and the strict cleaning measures put in place by the airlines, through my lens as a risk manager, I see the risk of catching COVID on an commercial airline to be low.  It would be helpful to the industry if the government conveyed more of that message to give the public more confidence that it is safe to fly.

Rapid Testing Can Help

There is a rapid COVID-19 testing program underway at the Calgary Airport and Coutts land border crossing.  Expansion of this program would help significantly on two fronts:

  1. Rapid testing of people before they enter an airport terminal would contribute to a reduction in the risk of an infectious person getting into a terminal and ultimately onto an aircraft.  Referring to the discussion above, this measure would further reduce the risk of catching COVID on a commercial flight.
  2. Expansion of rapid testing can also contribute to a reduction in mandatory quarantine periods upon arrival at a destination, similar to the pilot program in Alberta.   This is particularly an issue in Atlantic Canada with the mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival in the Atlantic provinces.  Controlling travel into the region has helped keep the virus under control. But mandatory quarantines have been a significant deterrent to travel, which has negative repercussions for the airports, airlines, and the economy at large.  In short, many communities in Atlantic Canada are rapidly losing their air service which is negatively impacting already depressed economies.

We support the Air Transport Association of Canada, the Canadian Business Aviation Association and the Helicopter Association of Canada and their efforts to encourage further adoption of rapid COVID-19 testing to reduce mandatory quarantine periods and get Canadians moving again.

Francis Liska

Francis is a Chartered Professional Accountant, Certified General Accountant, Certified Information Systems Auditor, Certified Internal Control Auditor and a Certified Management Consultant. He holds a degree in Business Administration from Cape Breton University and a Post Graduate Diploma in Applied Information Technology. He has also completed graduate studies in decision analysis at Carleton University.

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