The Australian state of Victoria claims the rate at which international flight crew are testing positive for COVID-19 is “over and above” the average for passengers that are returning to Australia from abroad. The evidence flies in the face of claims made by airlines that pilots and flight attendants are far less likely than the rest of the population to become infected with the novel Coronavirus.
Victoria’s Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville urged other Australian states to introduce mandatory aircrew testing after starting its own arrival COVID-19 tests programme just before the end of 2020.
In the time that the mandatory testing rules have been in place, health officials have so far tested 1,096 pilots and flight attendants, of which eight international aircrew tested positive. All of the positive cases were being held in hotel quarantine, although some were allowed to return home on non-passenger flights.
“So eight out of just over a thousand flight crew who have flown in, in the last two weeks have been positive,” Neville told reporters. “This is over and above the averages that we are seeing in returned travellers.”
Australia had previously been following guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) that exempted flight crew from routine invasive testing. But following a series of scandals involving flight crew breaking self-isolation rules, Victoria decided to add the mandatory testing requirement.
“I would today be saying to the other states, this is such a high risk for all of us, for the country, everyone needs to follow the lead around quarantining and testing of flight crew,” Neville said.
Flight crew are now also placed into strict hotel quarantine during their layovers, closing a loophole that allowed airlines to choose whatever hotel they wanted crew to stay in.
Victoria resumed its hotel quarantine programme on December 7, 2020 for returning travelers and anyone going into quarantine must on Day 3, Day 11 and Day 14 of quarantine. During the first round of hotel quarantine, health officials found that just over one in every 100 returned travelers tested positive during their quarantine period.
A number of airlines, however, have previously claimed that the prevalence of COVID-19 infection is significantly lower amongst flight attendants than the general population. Some airline executives have suggested that the airplane cabin working environment, along with mandatory face mask rules have helped to protect aircrew.
In October, Qatar Airways revealed that just 0.002 per cent of operating crew had tested positive for COVID-19. Along with Qatar Airways, the following airlines are also operating direct flights to Melbourne: Emirates, Etihad, Scoot, Garuda Indonesia, China Southern and Cathay Pacific.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.