Shymkent International Airport in Kazakhstan welcomed 520.000 passengers in 2017

​How can smaller airports, especially in regional areas, best protect staff, clients, and passengers against the dangers of COVID-19? Let’s explore.

Understanding the virus

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, is spread through close contact or respiratory droplets. The virus can be spread by an infected individual making contact with surfaces, after touching their mouth, eyes, and nose. Thus the virus can easily contaminate a public area and last many days on certain surfaces, until it dies off. Therefore airports find themselves on the front line in this global battle, and the staff, the very soldiers, battling and defending the vulnerable passengers.

Best practices

There are three significant best practices that airports should try to follow to limit the spread of the virus.

The first is ensuring that airport staff have the best personal protection equipment. This list includes a mask (at least an N95), gloves, a face shield, a personal hand sanitizer, and a full-body coverall to prevent any bacteria or viruses coming into contact with their clothes. Each team member will need their own kit, and will need to have a fresh one every day. Naturally, this can quickly become expensive.

Secondly, all airport services must be cleaned regularly and wiped down with sanitizing materials or procedures. This may include a team that regularly inspects the facility, wiping down all surfaces, including floors and walls, to prevent the virus from taking root. They may also deploy such tools as a powerful UVC light to eradicate any particles on surfaces without utilizing cleaning chemicals. Some airports have even gone as far as to deploy robotic cleaners that can work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thoroughly cleaning the same areas.

“Apart from enhancing cleaning performance, robot “Whiz” also helps boost operational productivity as cleaners can be reallocated to other cleaning tasks, particularly those critical cleaning and disinfection tasks,”Hong Kong Airport Authority who has deployed robots to help clean the vast airport. 

Thirdly, airport staff must ensure that they follow the right hygienic procedures to provide little to zero contamination. This includes remaining socially distant (at a distance of 1.5m or six feet), washing hands at all times whenever possible, and taking time off work if they feel unwell. The best defense starts with the team understanding their role and how by being the ones leading the way by example, they can make all the difference.

However, as good as these ideas sound, it is not entirely practical for smaller airports with limited budgets or limited access to materials. What can they do instead?

How can smaller airports defend against the virus?

Here are some of the ways that a smaller airport can still follow best practices:

A major first step is to limit areas that are exposed to COVID-19. One of the key ways to prevent the virus from spreading is to limit the areas that new arrivals have access to. Because the current crisis has decreased the number of travelers in our skies, it is easy for an airport to shut down areas (and, in some cases, entire terminals). This will then focus the passenger flow to several key touchpoint areas (bathrooms, corridors, immigration, baggage claim, customs, arrival hall), which can be systematically handled by a cleaning team. Passengers can’t wander off to different areas, thus making the cleaning a much smaller and quicker job. As passengers pass onto each area of the airport, they should be given hand sanitizer and encouraged to use it.

“Airports need to make sure that every single staff member, follows strict health and safety protocols. They should think of the airport as if it was a pharmaceutical lab, where stringent safety procedures are followed every day, and where there is no room for error in the cleanliness of the entire facility – including the air. If airports followed similar practices to hospital staff who deal directly with Covid-19 patients, the risk of outbreaks and infections may be minimised. – Desirée Ogilvie at Eways Aviation

In addition, it is about reducing the number of passengers that are clustered together. Some tips include:

  • Limiting the number of passengers in busses that transport them to and from the aircraft.
  • Allowing limited passengers to board at the same time and waiting until a group is seated before boarding the next group.
  • Avoiding crowds gathering at baggage claim.

Airports that want to use UV technology don’t need to dig deep into their wallets for expensive UV cleaning machines (like the robots that clean airports in Hong Kong). A fantastic alternative is handheld UV lights, that offer the same benefits and can be easily included in a cleaning team’s arsenal of tools. They can be the size of a pen, and do everything from sanitizing documents (such as passports which passengers touch), to spraying surfaces. UV light can also be fitted to security systems such as baggage x-ray scanners.

“The UV light tray disinfection kit can be retrofitted into existing automated tray handling systems to kill harmful microorganisms on trays transported from reclaiming back to the divest station. This further protects passengers and staff from the physical transmission of contagious diseases.” Incheon International Airport has trailed UV light to its baggage security system.

Another critical best practice is to ensure that passengers do not have a high temperature or a fever. But airports do not need thermal scanners (which can cost tens of thousands), but instead can scan each passenger with a laser digital thermometer. Click here to see the range of affordable Eways Aviation digital thermometers.

What about PPE?

Airports should ensure that there is a good supply of personal protection equipment, however, this isn’t always possible. Here are some tips on how to best protect airport staff without access to unlimited resources.

Cover faces of all personal. One of the first medical items to become rare during the last few months was an N95 mask. These masks reduce the risk of harmful virus particles from entering or exiting the wearers’ body; however, they come at an expensive premium. While we will always recommend that proper PPE should be used (and can offer a supply anywhere in the world), alternative ways can include homemade masks and other face coverings. It is essential, however, that the homemade masks used to have two or more layers as this will dramatically increase the effectiveness. Single-layer fabrics, like a scarf, have limited protection. Masks can also be washed after use but must be carefully handled when removed. 

Another essential PPE item is face shields. These defend against passengers invertedly spraying particles on staff members. These shields must be cleaned regularly and can be complex to deploy. An alternative is to install permanent clear shields at critical passenger touchpoints (like immigration), that allow the staff member to be protected and are easily cleaned. This means fewer shields overall with less flexibility, but still total coverage.

Lastly, airports need to ensure that passengers have access to their own source of PPE, such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. Airports can have these items for sale from a vending machine to ensure they can take the right steps to be comfortable and safe on their journey.

Eways Aviation is a world provider of safety equipment for airports and can help guide those looking for more information on how best to protect their passengers. We encourage you to get in touch today.