Put to the Test: COVID Testing is the Way Forward, Says Aviation Panel


The integration of testing into the end-to-end journey is crucial to reinstating passenger confidence and rebooting public inclination to fly, according to a panel of leading airline and airports at FTE APEX Virtual Expo. This article originally appeared in Expo Daily Experience. Read the full issues and register for FTE APEX Virtual Expo — the platform will remain open as a resource until January 8.

Panel participants (from top) Hon Lung Chu, Volocopter; Candice Lyog, Cebu Pacific Air;  Vivian Lo, Cathay Pacific; and Sujata Suri, Hamad International Airport.

Airlines and airports are striving to get to a point where passengers and crew are no longer anxious about the risk of contracting COVID-19 at any point during travel. Testing is the catalyst that will facilitate that objective by screening out contagious passengers. 

“We’re pushing for an advanced kind of digital health pass platform and Cathay Pacific has been the pioneer having done the first trial as a commercial airline,” says Vivian Lo, the airline’s general manager, Customer Experience and Design. Lo leads Cathay’s “COVID-19 restart task force,” focused on end-to-end changes to enable a “customer-centric restart.”

She says Cathay wants to play a role in putting in “confidence systems,” where pre-departure testing will “form the basis for travel to reopen and ensure that test and vaccination records are being validated in a high-integrity framework.”

The importance of testing was mirrored by Sujata Suri, vice-president, Strategy and Customer Experience, Hamad International Airport – one of the few airports that continued to operate at the outset of the pandemic. “We got into the act before the ICAO Council Recovery Task Force started – we are absolute veterans in how a pandemic is to be dealt with within an airport.”

The airport implemented thermal screening on January 23, 2020; opened its first test clinic on February 4; and began swabbing arriving passengers as of March 20. By August 1, when lockdown restrictions were lifted, the airport had deployed thermal screening across all its ingestion points; opened three clinics for swabbing and testing passengers; and had segregated its facility to “accommodate passengers from high-risk and low-risk destinations.” 

Hamad International’s efforts have garnered Skytrax’s 5-star COVID-19 Airport Safety Rating and a British Standards Institute Aviation Certification
of Compliance.

“We wanted to put out a robust health program to instill confidence, so when the recovery happens there will be much faster growth than what would have happened otherwise,” says Suri.

The overriding challenge, however, remains the standardization of health and safety protocols, she adds. “[This] would bring in some level of predictability in a passenger’s journey and that just becomes a lot easier for us to automate, and for us to create a process around.”

Virtual Expo Connection

“Reimagining the end-to-end guest experience to deliver a safe, seamless and touchless journey” is available to watch in the event environment until January 8, 2021