Various international aviation agencies have produced guidelines for reducing the spread of infectious disease and other public health threats via air travel.
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
ICAO is the United Nations agency that coordinates global efforts to ensure that all contracting states (including New Zealand) are prepared to deal with potential public health emergencies. The ICAO’s rules and regulations are published as Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) for international civil aviation. They aim to reduce the risk of disease being disseminated by air travel.
The Chicago Convention
The ICAO Charter is the Convention on International Civil Aviation (or the ‘Chicago Convention’), which was drafted in Chicago in 1944. The Convention is comprised of a series of articles and annexes covering all aspects of civil aviation. Some of those with direct relevance to border health protection include:
This Article obliges contracting states to take effective measures against aviation spreading:
- typhus (epidemic)
- yellow fever
- any other communicable disease designated by the contracting states.
Annex 9 (Facilitation)
This is a set of SARPs and guidance covering landside formalities for clearing aircraft (including passengers, goods and mail) with respect to the requirements of public health, customs, immigration, and agriculture authorities.
Annex 9 requires contracting parties to:
- comply with the relevant provisions on the International Health Regulations 2005
- establish a national aviation plan to prepare for the outbreak of communicable disease posing a public health threat.
It also contains provisions for:
- disinfestation and disinfection of aircraft
- quarantine and health service facilities at airports
- pilots notifying suspected communicable diseases to the authorities
- assistance with contact tracing efforts.
Annex 11 (Air Traffic Services) and Annex 14 (Aerodomes) require air traffic services and aerodromes to establish contingency planning or aerodrome emergency plans in preparation for public health emergencies of international concern.
ICAO guidelines to manage communicable disease risks
The ICAO has developed Guidelines for States to assist with planning for diseases that could cause a public health emergency. The guidelines were written in association with the World Health Organization, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the International Air Transport Association, and the Airports Council International. They are based on the requirements of the International Health Regulations 2005.
While being written in response to the outbreak of aviation influenza, the guidelines are generic, applicable to many communicable diseases. They will continue to be modified as more is learnt about preparedness planning, and the behaviour of relevant infectious agents.
Based on these, more detailed guidelines specific to airport operators and airlines have been developed. These can be read on the International Air Transport Association website.
International Air Transport Association (IATA)
IATA is a global industry promoting safe, reliable, secure, and economical air services. It represents around 230 airlines, or 93 per cent of scheduled international air traffic.
One of IATA’s areas of activities is ‘safety and security’, which includes communicable diseases in the aviation context. In the event of a communicable disease emergency, IATA aims to ensure the timely flow of accurate information to its members, the travelling public, and the industry as a whole.
Because of their experience with SARS, IATA has produced an Emergency Response Plan and Action Checklist, for use by air carriers in the event of a public health emergency. This includes a series of guidelines and best practices.