1138 GMT July 09, 2020
Air transport’s role of providing rapid and intercontinental connection has made it an essential economic and social conduit throughout the world.
Over the past decade, the air transport industry, on average, carried approximately 30 percent of the world’s population yearly when calculated on a round-trip basis. Millions of tons of freight are annually transported by air worldwide, which account for nearly 40 percent of all goods in terms of value. In addition, from different aspects, the development of the aviation industry was a great leap forward for humanity. However, along with it also come risks that must be minimized. Among them is the biological risk, that is defined as “the probability of exposure to biological agents”.
This article aims to warn the general public and those involved in aviation and health sectors against the dangers posed by the spread of infectious diseases across the world. Today, the world is grappling with a coronavirus that started in China and has since spread to other countries, including Iran. Airports have begun screening passengers for coronavirus symptoms, and many airlines have cut flights to China.
The massive and constant transportation of people by means of planes to all parts of our planet can act as a trigger for the quick spread of contagious diseases throughout the globe. Coronaviruses can also be spread through surfaces when an infected person coughs or sneezes, throwing droplets on them, others touch them and then touch their face.
There is an urgent need to develop a more effective prevention system in order to manage such biological risks in the aviation industry. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which regulates civil aviation worldwide through its 19 annexes, stipulates in Annex 9, titled ‘Facilitation,’ that passengers with a fever of 38°C or 100 °F, or higher, associated with other symptoms such as malaise, a persistent cough, compromised breathing, diarrhea, vomiting, persistent skin rashes, scars or bleeding, without prior injury should draw the crew’s attention to a potential biological risk. If the hazard is found, it shall be considered a communicable disease case on board, and the aircraft commander shall promptly inform the air traffic controller. ICAO also requires the contracting state to establish a national aviation plan as a precautionary measure in the event of an outbreak of contagious disease which endangers public health.
Using nanomaterials can also reduce biological risks in the aviation industry. In the past few decades, the field of nanotechnology has developed extensively. Nanotechnology, in general, refers to the synthesis, characterization and application of materials that are in the nanometer range. The properties of nanometric and bulk materials are different due to their size. A variety of nanoparticles (NPs) have been used for a number of specialized applications. At present, when we are faced with major problems caused by microorganisms and other biological risks, we are required to develop the antibiotic resistance of materials, a purpose for which NPs are a good option.
When analyzing the way in which the biological hazard is handled today in the aviation industry, it becomes necessary to establish a well-defined prevention system with more categorical rules and procedures, and to assign duties and responsibilities to those involved in the industry.
One question, however, remains: Are we prepared for dealing with viruses more dangerous than the new coronavirus?
* Alireza Jabarizadegan is an Iranian pilot.