The spread of COVID-19 has had a profound effect on the way the world currently operates, none more so than for the aviation industry. The lockdowns and restrictions put in place by governments around the world to minimise the spread of COVID-19 have had a huge impact on air travel which in turn has required significant additional protective measures to be put in place at international airports to prevent its spread.
St Helena Airport Limited (SHAL) recognises its role in trying to keep the Island COVID-19 free, and has therefore risen to the challenge, putting in place a number of measures in an attempt to prevent the infection and transmission of COVID-19 to staff, passengers, crew, and to the public at large on St Helena.
These measures, which are in addition to the St Helena Government COVID-19 preventative measures (such as passenger temperature checks), are listed below; they are in place to give assurance to residents of St Helena Island that SHAL and its partners are doing what they can to protect the Island, and crucially, to allow the Airport to remain open and operational. This is essential if the Island is to keep a lifeline open to the rest of the world to permit medical equipment and personnel to come to the Island, as well as to allow people off Island, particularly those requiring emergency medical treatment.
SHAL remains proactive in its responsive measures and these will dynamically change to meet the challenge of these fast-changing events associated with this pandemic.
Staff at SHAL, Penspen, UK Met Office and ATNS have all instituted social distancing measures in an effort to stop the potential spread of communicable diseases at the Airport. Office spaces have been reconfigured and repurposed to permit greater working distances between staff; face-to-face meetings have been minimised and video conferencing is used wherever possible. Where face-to-face meetings are necessary, staff ensure they sit at safe distances from one another. Air conditioning or natural breeze is used to ensure a constant circulation of air.
During flight operations, a sufficient number of staff are employed at strategic locations to ensure operations remain safe and secure, yet minimise exposure to potential infection. This includes keeping a safe distance from passengers and crew (at least 2 metres), standing upwind of them when outside where possible, and minimising the need for staff to handle objects and papers that are in the possession of passengers and crew. Lines have been added to the Terminal Building floor to assist passengers with social distancing when queuing.
Additional use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
The use of PPE during flight operations has changed to implement a greater degree of resilience against communicable diseases. All staff have been issued with gloves and face masks, and these are employed where required when flights arrive and depart. These are then collected at the end of the day, double-bagged and safely disposed of. Those staff working around and inside arriving and departing aircraft have been issued with one piece ‘hazmat’ suits for an extra layer of safety, and like the gloves and masks, these are safely disposed of once no longer required.
Additionally, cleaning staff take care when cleaning all surfaces and collecting waste within the Airport buildings.
More regular, more stringent cleaning and hygiene regimes employed
In line with government guidelines, SHAL staff have been requested to wash their hands more often; in addition all staff have access to hand sanitiser, and all hand cloths have been removed and replaced with paper towels. Staff have also been issued with cleaning products to allow them to clean their offices on a daily basis, concentrating on those surfaces which are often touched such as desks, chairs, handles, computer keyboards and telephones. Doors to offices are left open wherever possible to reduce the need to touch handles.
A wash basin has been installed so that those staff working airside and on the apron have ready access to washing facilities, thus negating the need for them to return to the Combined Building to wash their hands.
Visiting aircraft are no longer cleaned by ground personnel and once operations on the apron have completed, those staff who have worked on or near to the aircraft have a direct route to showering facilities at the Airport; their workwear is promptly collected and hot washed at the Airport.
Airport facilities that have accommodated arriving and departing passengers, cargo and crew are sealed for at least 72 hours after operations have completed, and thereafter those facilities are carefully deep cleaned with appropriate disinfectants to further reduce the chances of contamination and infection. Particular attention is paid to surfaces that are regularly touched such as counters, seating and luggage trolleys.
Staggered working patterns
Where SHAL staff are not required to be in work at the same time, the working patterns of key staff have been amended to limit the possibility of exposure to potential communicable diseases. This also includes more working from home where possible.
Closure of the airport to visitors on flight days
As publicised in April and May 2020, St Helena Airport is now closed to all visitors until further notice. This reduces the likelihood of infection and transmission of communicable diseases including COVID-19. Only those who are directly involved with the handling of arriving passengers may come to the Airport; likewise, only those who are departing the Island are permitted to enter the Airport on a flight day. Those transporting passengers and crew to/from the Airport are permitted to enter the Airport precinct, but only to collect or drop-off passengers – they are not permitted to enter the Terminal Building.
Communicable Diseases Plan
SHAL has implemented a Communicable Diseases Business Continuity Plan. It identifies the key personnel at the Airport, along with key suppliers and stakeholders, and describes the various levels of measures required at each stage of an epidemic, becoming more stringent as an epidemic takes hold. Resources and processes are adjusted according to the ‘defensive’ measures required at each stage to maximise our response and minimise disruption to airport operations.
Temporary extensions to meet international aviation standards and requirements
In close consultation with our regulator Air Safety Support International (ASSI), SHAL has been granted extensions to international aviation requirements where renewal is currently not possible or where preventative measures (such as social distancing) would hinder operations.
For example, under normal circumstances, ASSI inspectors would come to St Helena Airport to conduct audits; likewise, training of staff (to remain certificated and accredited) would previously have been delivered on-Island; additionally, equipment that needs to remain calibrated would have been sent off-Island, and engineers would have come to St Helena to keep equipment certification valid. Given the travel restrictions currently in place, it has not been possible to operate as normal.
However, the various secondary and alternative measures that SHAL has put in place has given ASSI sufficient assurance to allow deviation and/or extension where necessary. SHAL has implemented robust measures to ensure airport operations remain safe and secure, and this has given ASSI the necessary confidence to permit these temporary arrangements whilst we wait for the world to return to some semblance of ‘normality’.
Temperature checks on staff
At the beginning of each working day and whenever staff pass through the staff entrance at the Airport, their temperature is taken for 14 days following the arrival of a flight which either has (or is suspected of having) persons onboard with a communicable disease, or when the aircraft has come from a high-risk [of communicable disease] area. Anyone displaying a high temperature is immediately sent home and asked to contact a medical professional for advice.