Malaysia Airlines Continues Flying Despite Raging Covid-19 Pandemic

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB) has not stopped flying since the first day Covid-19 outbreak was declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on December 31, 2019.

Corporate safety oversight head Datuk Dr. Mohammad Razin Kamarulzaman said the national carrier has continued to operate despite reduced daily flight operations for the past 10 months.

“Throughout the past 12 months, we have been monitoring the health of our crew with the assistance of the Ministry of Health at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

“To date, none of our cabin crew or pilots has been infected by Covid-19 from passengers in-flight,” he told the New Straits Times (NST) recently.

NST previously reported that MAB would continue to fly twice daily to London, despite the spread of a new Covid-19 strain in the United Kingdom.

MAB said it would adhere to the directives issued by the authorities.

“Our schedule remains intact and we continue to fly twice daily to London. MAB stands guided by applicable directives by the authority due to any new development caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had conducted a case review of 13 case reports of in-flight transmission cases between January and July 2020 with about 1.2 billion passengers flew during the period.

IATA reported that a total of 2,853 passengers who flew were detected to be Covid-19. Of these, 44 secondary cases were detected, positively identified infected by a Covid-19 passenger in-flight.

Based on this series of reports, IATA concluded that the risk of in-flight transmission was low at one in 27 million. During the period, a few authorities or airlines enforced the use of face mask in-flight.

“The low risk of inflight transmission is related to various measures that have been taken by the aviation industry.

“The pre-flight measures include the health screening of crew and passengers, the practice of physical distancing at airports and the use of mask across the airport,” he said.

The in-flight measures include the use of face mask by crew and passenger throughout their journey except during mealtimes.

The forward seating arrangements of the aircraft seats with the chairback prevents forward flow of expired air, and more importantly, the design of cabin airflow from the top of cabin downward with an air exchange of every two minutes.

Mohammad Razin said 50 per cent recycled air goes through the High-Efficiency Air Particulate (HEPA) filter, filtering out 99.97 per cent of microorganisms.

“The 50 per cent recycled air is mixed with fresh bleed air from the atmosphere in the next cycle.

“The effectiveness of the airflow design is further testified by studies conducted by the three major aircraft manufacturers Boeing, Airbus and Embraer,” he said.

The United States Military, US Transportation Command who independently conducted studies on United Airlines aircraft in August 2020, also confirmed the low risk of Covid-19 transmission on board an aircraft.

“Should there be an ill passenger on board, there is a specific standard operating procedure to handle the case. The crew are trained in first aid and there are medical kits available to cater for the inflight medical event.

“Post-flight, crew and passengers are subjected to health screening by the health authorities and appropriate measures are taken if cases are identified. The aircraft cabin also undergoes disinfection process every time the aircraft arrives home base,” he said.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which lead the aviation sector-led, had formed the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (ICAO CART) since March 2020 and published the ICAO CART Take-Off Guidance in May 2020.

This document is published and is circulated to all Member States to provide a harmonised approach to public health measures in the aviation industry during the pandemic recovery and restart phases.

“It has a public health module and four aviation modules of airport, aircraft, crew and cargo covering 22 areas with 197 recommendations,” he said.

Mohammad Razin said the majority of these recommendations had been implemented by airlines and airports in Malaysia and throughout the world.

These recommendations are also reported by the Civil Aviation Authorities of Member States to ICAO as a tracking measure.

The ICAO CART II recommendations had recently been published in November 2020 with improved recommendations. Despite of the Covid-19 pandemic, the commercial airline remains the safest mode of public transportation.

“We at Malaysia Airlines always believe the public has a choice when they wish to travel. We encourage the public to play their part of being a responsible passenger when they fly with us, for their health and safety as well as the health and safety of fellow passengers and the aviation workforce,” he added.


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