Air travel has been instrumental in the spread of COVID-19, creating a global pandemic from an outbreak originating in one city. Now, Etihad Airways is employing new technology that could help slow its transmission before anyone boards a plane.
At its home base in Abu Dhabi, the airline known for its luxurious accommodations has suspended all flights. However, once they begin again, passengers may be scanned by a device that records different biometrics, like body temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate––all things which can indicate illness.
The units, produced by Australian company Elenium Automation, will be posted at four different points to weed out those who might be stricken with early stages of coronavirus: check-in, baggage drop, security and the immigration gate. Any irregularities will prompt a teleconference for further instructions and alert staff.
“This technology is not designed or intended to diagnose medical conditions,” said Etihad executive Jorg Oppermann in an interview with Forbes. “It is an early warning indicator which will help to identify people with general symptoms, so that they can be further assessed by medical experts, potentially preventing the spread of some conditions to others preparing to board flights to multiple destinations.”
Oppermann stressed that with their high-quality air filtration systems, the planes themselves are not the transmission vehicle for diseases. However, the close proximity of people in-flight and unchecked movement after departure are critical factors.
“We are testing this technology because we believe it will not only help in the current Covid-19 outbreak, but also into the future, with assessing a passenger’s suitability to travel and thus minimizing disruptions,” Oppermann said. “At Etihad we see this as another step towards ensuring that future viral outbreaks do not have the same devastating effect on the global aviation industry as is currently the case.”
Trials for the monitoring technology are set to begin at the end of April and run through May with volunteer subjects.