The European regional branch of the Airports Council International (ACI Europe) is calling for “urgent coordination” between health authorities at a European Union (EU) level over the implementation of screening at airports and any potential risks to air travelers.
ACI Europe said such coordination “should involve clear and unequivocal communication of risk assessment as regards the possible spread of the virus in Europe. This is what the public—in particular air passengers—expect. This is also what is needed to allay any unreasonable fear and avoid inefficient measures.”
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC) have expressed reservations about the effectiveness of entry screening for passengers arriving from Ebola-affected countries, some European countries have followed the US and Canada in implementing passenger screening at airports. The UK was the first EU country to introduce screening at airports, with London Heathrow Terminal 1 introducing the measures on Tuesday, to be followed by the other Heathrow terminals by the end of this week. Gatwick and the St Pancras Eurostar terminal are due to implement measures next week.
France is due to implement entry screening at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport this weekend, and EU health ministers are meeting in Luxembourg today to try and hammer out a Europe-wide policy on entry screening at EU airports. Only two EU airlines—Air France and Brussels Airline—are understood to be still serving the worst Ebola-affected countries, although local media reports suggest Air France is having increasing difficulty finding crews willing to operate the flights. The flights are a lifeline for aid personnel and supplies heading to West Africa to help fight and contain the disease.
ACI Europe stressed that both the WHO and ECDC support exit screening of departing passengers, which began at airports in the three main affected African countries in the last two months. The association pointed out that more than 36,000 people have been subject to exit screening in those countries, 77 of whom were denied boarding because of health concerns although it transpired that none of them had Ebola.
ACI Europe DG Olivier Jankovec said: “Health security is paramount and we trust that Health ministers will ensure that actions are properly thought through and fully coordinated across Europe and beyond. Otherwise, we risk ending up with an inefficient patchwork of measures, with negative implications for passengers and airport operations—for an unspecified period of time and with no guarantee of success.”
He said that Europe’s airports supported a dual approach response to the Ebola threat: supporting efforts to contain and eradicate the virus at source, and communicating effectively to the public the measures that are being put in place and what they need to do to play their part and stay safe.
“A clear, efficient and fully coordinated response at EU level is the way forward,” Jankovec said.