London’s Heathrow Airport, one of the world’s largest air travel hubs, has begun trials of technology to conduct temperature checks on patients as the global aviation industry tries to put measures in place to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye told UK MPs from the House of Commons Transport Select Committee on Wednesday that the tests are already being carried out at departure gates on people going to places where this is a requirement, with plans for a wider roll-out as part of an exit strategy from the current lockdown measures.
Body temperature is among the key symptoms of coronavirus and therefore used as a check on passengers before they board flights.
“Aviation is the cornerstone of the UK economy, and to restart the economy, the government needs to help restart aviation,” said Holland-Kaye.
“The UK has the world’s third largest aviation sector offering the platform for the government to take a lead in agreeing a Common International Standard for aviation health with our main trading partners.
“This Standard is key to minimising transmission of COVID-19 across borders, and the technology we are trialling at Heathrow could be part of the solution,” he said.
Technologies under review during the trials being conducted at Heathrow include UV sanitation, facial recognition thermal screening technology and contactless security procedures.
Data from trials will be shared with government and industry to jumpstart the creation of a Common International Standard for health screening.
The aim of the collective measures being trialled is to reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19 while travelling.
“If we are told that the only solution until we can get a vaccine in 12 to 18 months” time is to socially distance in an airport, then tens of thousands of jobs will be cut. We cannot afford to wait that long to get flying again,” Holland-Kaye added.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, told MPs that airlines have outlined three levels of measures, with the idea that each country adopts a specific level.
Any flight between two destinations would have to comply with the highest level, with staff wearing personal protective equipment and all passengers wearing masks under the strictest level three, for example.
The Transport Committee hearing follows the announcement by Virgin Atlantic on Tuesday that it is cutting more than 3,000 jobs in the UK and ending its operation at Gatwick airport temporarily.
Airlines, which have been largely grounded during the pandemic lockdown, have sought greater state assistance to survive the crisis.