By Adelola Amihere
Nigerian based crew operating international flights as flight crew must now wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and observes Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) measures for the duration of the flight as part of the COVID-19 Pandemic Public Health Protocols as released by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA)
The protocol also states that the flight crew will not be quarantined but undergo mandatory testing for COVID-19 every 14 days at cost to the Air Operator upon return to Nigeria as flight crew members who test positive for COVID-19 will be taken to a treatment center for further management.
Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation in a statement Thursday disclosed that new protocols was contained in a letter with reference NCAA/DG/AIR/11/16/120 27th May 2020 signed by the Director General, Captain Musa Nuhu to all operators, airports and other service providers the new protocol approved by Federal Ministry of Health replaces the current practice where Nigerian based flight crew members who operate international flights are quarantined for 14 days upon their return to Nigeria.
The letter which highlighted 20 guidelines that must be followed by operators reads: “Upon return to Nigeria flight crew will not be quarantined but will undergo mandatory testing for COVID-19 every 14 days at cost to the Air Operator. Flight crew members who test positive for COVID-19 will be taken to a treatment center for further management.
“Nigeria based Airlines/Aircrew wishing to conduct flight operations outside the country shall be required to comply with the following: Ensure orientation and sensitization of crew on Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) measures as per training and guidance from public health authorities, ensure they have adequate stock of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), minimum 70% alcohol-based hand sanitizers and Universal Precaution Kits (UPK) on board aircraft before the flight.
“Ensure flight crew wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and observe IPC measures for the duration of the flight as follows; Flight deck Crew: Non-medical face mask and gloves. Face mask can be removed when the cockpit door is closed for safety reasons Cabin crew – Non-medical face mask, gloves, disposal surgical gowns and safety visors/goggles and ensure safe removal of gloves after performing specific tasks.”
“Avoid touching their face and eyes with unclean hands, flight crew are to ensure that all passengers wear a non-medical face mask for the duration of the flight except when eating or using emergency oxygen and flight crew are to ensure that passengers rub their hands with alcohol-based sanitizer as they embark the aircraft.
“Put up a notice in the lavatory/washroom on hand washing that requests passengers wash their hands after using the lavatory, flight crew are to maintain a safe distance between passengers and themselves; avoiding direct physical contact, cabin crew will serve only pre-packed meals to passengers and where practicable, flight crew will reserve one lavatory for their own use.”
The guideline further continues: “Cabin crew will apply disinfectant spray in lavatory every 60 minutes during the flight, airline will carry augmented crew to ensure the immediate turnaround of the flight with no crew member disembarking from the aircraft, except the pilot that will conduct the mandatory walk around in which case the pilot is required to wear a non-medical facemask and gloves.
“The flight deck crew that will carry out the mandatory walk around will wear PPE (non-medical facemask, gloves and disposable protective gowns) and will ensure he/she keeps a physical distance of at least 2 meters from ground handling staff, fuelers, dispatchers, baggage handlers and other persons handling the aircraft and airline shall carry return catering.
“Filing of flight plan by Flight deck crew is to be done via online channels. Where this is not possible, crew members are to exercise extreme caution (wear a face mask and gloves) when filing a flight plan and receiving documentation from ground staff/flight dispatchers. Flight deck crew members are to rub their hands with minimum 70 % alcohol-based sanitizers after interfacing with ground staff/dispatchers.
“After the flight, Crew members are to safely remove their PPEs and ensure safe disposal in line with IPC procedures. For flights of longer duration where augmented flight crew may not be practicable, arrangements are to be made with the country of destination for flight crew to lay over and comply with the mandatory duty time rest period requirement.
According to the NCAA, if the flight crew will have to lay over in a foreign country to enable them observe crew duty time rest period, “the Air Operator is to coordinate with the foreign country’s Public Health Authorities at the airport and implement the following: Commute arrangements (between airport & hotel if required): the Air Operator should arrange for the commute between the aircraft and the crew’s individual hotel rooms ensuring hygiene methods are applied and the recommended physical distancing adopted, including within the vehicle to the extent possible”.
On what is expected in their accommodation if crew members would lay over, the guideline states: “At accommodation, at all times, crew must comply with local public health regulations and policies One crew member to one room, which is sanitized prior to occupancy; Crew, taking account of the above and in so far as is practicable, should avoid contact with the public and fellow crew members and remain in the hotel room except to seek medical attention, or for essential activities including exercise, while respecting physical distancing requirements; and not use the common facilities in the hotel, like bars, gyms, etc.
“Dine in-room, get take-outs, or dine seated alone in a restaurant in the hotel, only if room service is not available; and regularly monitor for symptoms including fever and observe good hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene and physical distancing measures when required to leave the hotel room only for the reasons specified or emergency situations.
“Crew members experiencing symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 during lay over or transit should; report it to the aircraft operator and seek assistance from a medical doctor for assessment of possible COVID-19. Cooperate with the assessment and possible further monitoring for COVID-19 in accordance with the evaluation procedure implemented by that foreign country (e.g. assessment in the hotel room, or an isolation room within the hotel, or alternative location)
“ If a crew member has been evaluated and COVID -19 is not suspected in accordance with the evaluation procedure implemented by the foreign country, the air operator may arrange for the crew member to repatriate to base and if a crew member is suspected or confirmed as a COVID-19 case by the State or foreign country and isolation is not required by the foreign country, such crew member may be medically repatriated by appropriate modes: if there is agreement to repatriate the crew member to home base.
“Flight crew members will have no physical contact with any persons while in the foreign country, including ground handling staff, airline staff, embassy staff, drivers, protocol officers, hotel/accommodation staff etc.”