Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport Britain
File photo: A signboard at Heathrow Airport following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Image Credit: Reuters

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Thursday said that since the start of 2020 there had been only 44 cases of COVID-19 reported in which transmission is thought to have been associated with a flight journey. Some 1.2 billion passengers have travelled over the same period.

“The risk of a passenger contracting COVID-19 while onboard appears very low. We think these figures are extremely reassuring. Furthermore, the vast majority of published cases occurred before the wearing of face coverings inflight became widespread,” said David Powell, IATA’s Medical Advisor in a statement.

Aircraft airflow systems, High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, the natural barrier of the seatback, the downward flow of air, and high rates of air exchange efficiently reduce the risk of disease transmission on board in normal times, IATA said.

The addition of mask-wearing adds a “further and significant extra layer of protection”, which makes being seated in close proximity in an aircraft cabin safer than most other indoor environments, the industry body said.

IATA’s observation is based on a joint publication produced by Airbus, Boeing and Embraer.

“There is no single silver-bullet measure that will enable us to live and travel safely in the age of COVID-19. But the combination of measures that are being put in place is reassuring travelers the world over that COVID-19 has not defeated their freedom to fly,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

The research “demonstrates that combining the aircraft’s existing design features with mask-wearing creates a low-risk environment for COVID-19 transmission. As always, airlines, manufacturers and every entity involved in aviation will be guided by science and global best practices to keep flying safe for passengers and crew,” said de Juniac.