New ICAO guidelines could keep wide-body aircraft grounded post-COVID-19
As a UN agency, the ICAO is expected to play a leading role in the recovery of the air travel industry in order to ensure global connections on which the world economy relies. For this purpose, ICAO’s Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) recommended in a report the adoption of new guidelines concerning good practices for professionals of air transport. However, the strengthening of standard safety and hygiene procedure has the potential to render long-haul wide-body aircraft a relic of the past.
Harmonization of safety standards is arguably the most important issue for the ICAO to resolve in order to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The confined and cross-border nature of air travel immediately exposed the industry to lockdown measures. It is now necessary for airlines and airports to adapt to new standards of hygiene and social distancing as mentioned throughout the CART’s report.
For instance, airlines will have to consider modifying their seat assignment process to ensure physical distancing between passengers. This means in practice that traditional passenger density in twin-aisles such as the A350 or the B787 could be considered unsustainable. Passengers will also be asked to limit movements, which could pose obvious issues with long-haul flights. Qantas already shelved its super-long flight Project Sunrise between Australia, New York and London, and Emirates’ president declared that there was no future for wide-body aircraft such as the A380 or the B747. New safety standards such as those defined by the CART could confirm these fears.