Gilberto Lopez, IATA’s Senior Vice President, Safety and Flight Operations, details the safety considerations for the industry restart

As the COVID-19 crisis spread across the world, we’ve seen airlines make significant alterations to their business models to adapt to the rapidly changing environment. It’s important to understand where safety risk may be introduced into the aviation system, as part of a change management process, to ensure those changes are managed effectively.

A particular example of this is using the passenger fleet to meet the demand for air cargo services. Safety considerations have been analyzed, using a Safety Risk Assessment, to ensure these operations support the excellent safety record that aviation has developed over the years.

Now, attention is turning to the industry restart. IATA is working hard to ensure that safety and operational efficiency remain paramount.

IATA engaged with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and other major regulators early on to recognize and address issues around license validity periods. Letters were sent to most Civil Aviation Authorities asking that flexibility mechanisms be considered and that these mechanisms be transparent. We believe that they will be required during the restart process and for a period afterwards.

License validity refers not only to aeronautical personnel—like pilot licenses and pilot medical certificates—but also to aircraft assets—such as the Certificate of Airworthiness of an Aircraft—or an aviation industry entity, including approved maintenance organizations.

Meanwhile, IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) registration extensions are being offered for a period of up to six months. Airlines are required to complete an IOSA safety questionnaire every 60 days during the extension period, however. And the new IOSA Standards Manual Edition will now only come into effect on 1 September 2021. It will be published in January or February 2021 to provide a longer grace period to the airlines.

Last but not least on IOSA topics, we are in constant conversation with all major regulators to ensure the measures are globally accepted and we speak with a single voice.

Looking at aircraft airworthiness from an engineering and maintenance perspective, it is worth remembering that aircraft maintenance programs are designed basically to support an assumed aircraft utilization in terms of flight hours and flight cycle ranges. Therefore, there are specific aircraft maintenance actions related to aircraft being parked for an extended period to ensure that airframes, engines and systems do not deteriorate during the time that they are idle.

An additional challenge is that aircraft may be parked away from an airline’s normal operating bases and so an airline may face limited maintenance capabilities.

Moreover, it is very important to stagger the maintenance work and avoid a bottleneck when the moment comes to return the aircraft fleet to service. IATA is coordinating with airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and regulators to ensure that aircraft maintenance programs are implemented in an optimized way. We want to capture any opportunity for gradual and balanced maintenance actions while ensuring there is no compromise to aircraft airworthiness on their return to service.

Ensuring the right people are in place for the requisite maintenance programs and all other aviation functions is another issue the industry must confront. From air traffic controllers to fuelers, loaders, and dispatchers, the COVID-19 crisis has affected all aviation staff. The cuts have hit hard and deep as airlines, and associated service providers, have had to consider furloughing staff as one way to conserve cash to keep their businesses afloat. 

It is important that, as the crisis continues, those personnel critical to the restart of the airline industry remain available and certified to carry out their jobs. If we do not plan correctly for this now, there will be gaps in the supply chain that will impede airlines from operating normally.