Safety of Aircrew and other Aviation personnel during COVID-19 Pandemic

While the larger aviation industry awaits abatement of the COVID-19 pandemic to take to the skies again, humanitarian and commercial repatriation flights continue. However, South-east Asia and the Americas continue to see rising numbers of new COVID-19 cases, and some other parts around the world where the spread of the disease was under control have reported a second wave. During such testing times, the aviation personnel remain at risk of exposure to SARS-Cov-2, the corona virus, even during these times of limited aviation activities, while the economic compulsions and political pressures are pushing for opening the skies again. It is here that the onus of ensuring the safety of aviation personnel lies not solely on the aviation organisation and the exposed individual but requires a deliberative approach collectively.
This is particularly important since the Council Aviation Task Force (CART) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is tasked with “providing practical, aligned guidance to governments and industry operators in order to restart the international air transport sector and recover from the impacts of COVID-19 on a coordinated global basis.”[1]

In this context, an article entitled, ‘An integrative Total Worker Health Framework for keeping workers safe and healthy during the COVID-19’ [2] is a timely reminder to apply the vital human factors and ergonomics principles for ensuring safety, health and well-being of the frontline workers, including aircrew and other aviation personnel, in this ongoing battle against this viral scourge.  

Broadly, the authors have provided a framework based on Workplace Integrated Safety and Health (WISH) assessment, incorporating the following key characteristics, as elaborated by Sorensen et al. [3]: 

  1. Leadership commitment
    Leadership makes worker safety, health, and well-being a clear priority for the entire organization. They drive accountability and provide the necessary resources and environment to create positive working conditions.
  2. Participation
    Stakeholders at every level of an organization, including labor unions or other worker organizations if present, help plan and carry out efforts to protect and promote worker safety and health.
  3. Policies, programs, and practices that foster supportive working conditions
    The organization enhances worker safety, health, and well-being with policies and practices that improve working conditions.
  4. Comprehensive and collaborative strategies
    Employees from across the organization work together to develop comprehensive health and safety initiatives.
  5. Adherence 
    The organization adheres to federal and state regulations, as well as ethical norms, that advance worker safety, health, and well-being.
  6. Data-driven change 
    Regular evaluation guides an organization’s priority setting, decision making, and continuous improvement of worker safety, health, and well-being initiatives.

Considering the pandemic has brought the aviation sector to a standstill, ICAO is actively collaborating through CART and CAPSCA (Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation) [4] to offer harmonised recommendations for the global aviation community. However, the ‘Leadership Commitment’ thereafter extends to National Aviation Authorities, airline industry and industry service providers to apply the ICAO guidance as far as practical (due to resource constraints, but not for lack of political or administrative will) to ensure Total Worker Health (TWH). TWH is defined as policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness-prevention efforts to advance worker well-being. [5] 

Such an approach exhorts equal participation and collaboration at national level between the aviation regulator and the industry, while implementation on ground requires collective decision making among all stakeholders, particularly by ensuring inclusion of the exposed frontline workers, be it the aircrew or the ground handling staff or other service providers in physical contact with the traveller. 

While remaining flexible to alter the implemented strategies based on emerging evidence, the need for ensuring adequate resource allocation, including provisioning of protective gear as well as information dissemination, to protect the aviation personnel remains the responsibility of the aviation community. This starts from the top decision makers in the aviation industry for resource management and percolates down to each personnel – pilots, cabin crew, ground staff, air traffic controllers, other airport staff including security personnel and those manning other facilities etc. – to ensure overall safety, including prevention of COVID-19 infection, while serving the travelling public.

A major problem in this ongoing battle is the prevailing resource crunch, especially the outflow of liquidity without any earnings in commercial aviation. This will be not only evident in the developing world, but across the globe as the evident financial stress has already led to collapse of several airlines around the world [6]. Herein, once again there is a need to address the paucity of resource with commitment from the Leadership, particularly political, whether they are willing to extend a lifeline to the sinking organisation or let the markets determine its fate. However, the impact of COVID-19 on the economic downturn resulting in severe financial crunch for the airlines brings uncertainty about the job among the employees, in turn affecting their mental health and well-being. This too needs to be addressed by all concerned. Whether they are prepared for it or not begs the question.


  1. Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART) 
  2. Dennerlien JT, Burke L, Sabbath EL, Williams JAR, Peters SE, Wallas L, Karapanos M, Sorensen G. An integrative Total Worker Health Framework for keeping workers safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hum Factors 2020;62(5):689-696.
  3. Sorensen G, Sparer E, Williams JAR, et al. Measuring Best Practices for Workplace Safety, Health, and Well-Being: The Workplace Integrated Safety and Health AssessmentJ Occup Environ Med2018;60(5):430-439. 
  4. Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA)
  5. NIOSH Total Worker Health® Program
  6. Bloom LB. You Won’t Believe How Many Airlines Haven’t Survived Coronavirus. How Does It Affect You?Forbes; 27 Jun 2020. Accessed on 29 Aug 2020