According to the Flight Safety Foundation getting on a plane is safe again. Dr. Hassan Shahidi, president, and CEO of the foundation joined Juergen Steinmetz from eTurboNews and chair of rebuilding.travel to discuss how safe it is for a passenger and also for a crew to fly on a commercial aircraft during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Hassan Shahidi, a long-time senior executive at the influential MITRE Corporation and a leader in aviation safety and air traffic management became the president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation in 2019
The Flight Safety Foundation is an independent, nonprofit, international organization engaged in research, education, advocacy, and communications to improve aviation safety. The Foundation’s mission is to connect, influence, and lead global aviation safety.
Transcript of the Interview
Juergen Steinmetz: Aloha good morning, everyone. My name is Juergen Steinmetz, joining you from livestream.travel in Honolulu, Hawaii. And with me today, we have a gentleman who’s joining us from Washington DC. Dr. Hassan Shahidi, and he’s the president and CEO of Flight Safety Foundation. The Flight Safety Foundation is an organization that has collaborated in the fields of what it says, I guess, fight in safety. Tell us a little bit more about the background .
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: Thank you again and good to be with you. And thank you for the invitation flight safety foundation was founded in the 1940s as a nonprofit for the sole purpose of advancing aviation safety globally, and working collaboratively with NGOs nongovernment organizations, governments, and industry to improve aviation safety for passengers and everyone. And we are the, in the business of advocacy for safety issues and business of providing information to passengers and traveling public and raising issues relating to a variety of safety issues and security issues, including conflict zones and Coronavirus and things like that.
Well, you must be busy. Must’ve been busy than recently with the situation ongoing, because it’s a big question, Mark. If you show to really get on a plane or not get on the plane, and when I read through your press releases, you tell people to actually, it’s okay to get on a plane.
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: Well, do you know, we have, since the outset of this pandemic, we have been working night and day across the globe, looking at all of the data, all of the information even before any of these safety measures such as masks and things like that were in place. So we’ve been monitoring very closely what is happening not just in the US but as I mentioned globally, and we’ve been looking at cases and looking at data and specifically what the airlines and airports have been doing in terms of the hygiene and all of the measures that have been put in, put in place. And our analysis basically showed that there are, the risks are very low. And in fact, there are very, very few cases of verified transmissions onboard aircraft. So we have concluded that for passengers if you’re flying, they’re safe to fly. If you follow the rules and terms of hygiene and masks., and, and if you do that, you can have a safe journey.
Juergen Steinmetz: So you would probably agree with Paul Hudson, we had on a show last week in regards to mask-wearing a Paul has been fighting, I
Juergen Steinmetz: Think in FAA or FCC order of what doesn’t, what makes mask-wearing really not mandatory, but voluntary, even though it’s enforced apparently by the major airlines, but it’s not necessarily enforced by the no third carriers in the United States. How do you stand with mass squaring requirements on an aircraft?
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: We absolutely agree that you have to have masks. And in fact, all airlines are requiring masks, almost virtually all airlines. And we have published a within flight Sage foundation, flight safety foundation.org. If you look at that golden rules, one of the first Gordon golden rules of wear a mask and follow common sense procedures in terms of hygiene. So absolutely wearing masks is absolutely important.
Juergen Steinmetz: Now, when it comes to cleaning, aircraft’s they have been a lot of stories on how to clean the aircraft. And I’m definitely not an expert in it, but you may be with ultra red and, and other new modern techniques that could actually kill the virus and it should be done between every flight. And then we heard stories it’s not done in the US because it’s simply not possible to do it. There’s not enough time. Where do we stand with this?
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: Well, first of all, I think viewers and listeners should know that onboard aircraft, there are multiple layers, of hygiene and air quality protection. First of all your listeners may know that that aircraft is equipped with certain filters that are called HEPA filters, high, high-efficiency filters that are actually hospital operating rooms, great filters that capture 99.99% of all the particles in the air. There is exchange fresh exchange of air every two or three minutes. The airflow within the airplane is vertical, which means it comes from the ceiling and sucked down from the, from the floor to minimize horizontal movement of it, of air. And as you mentioned, there are hygiene and cleaning and disaffected within the cabin. And so I think all of those things are working as a layered strategy, a layered approach to minimize the risk of virus, transmission, and kill, kill the virus.
Juergen Steinmetz: Isn’t this differs depending on the aircraft or the commercial aircraft better you’ll fly? So what aircraft do you think you should fly that are safer than others? Is there a list, or is there an experience?
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: Well, all modern L aircraft are equipped with all modern aircraft or commercial aircraft are equipped with these HEPA filters and the things I mentioned in terms of, and all of that, they’re all standard, Boeing, Airbus, and barrier. All these manufacturers have, have the same standards and trumps of the functions and the technology.
And we have been talking a lot about social distancing and, and simply, it’s probably not possible to do and observe the social distancing six feet boundary. And now some say it’s, it’s 10 feet and others in Europe, stage three feet. So we don’t really know exactly leaving the middle of the seat. Open was an ambition in the beginning. Now, many airlines back backing out and say, okay, it doesn’t really make any difference, but what is your experience with social distancing on the plane?
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: Right. So I think most airlines now certainly new L a US and elsewhere are adhering to that, keeping the middle seat open. And that’s good for building passenger confidence and, and, you know, it’s more comfortable certainly and as much as they can, but, you know, at least in the interim you know, that is being provided, but social distancing, whether you leave the middle seat open or not is not achieved. So because you have somebody in France, somebody in the back and somebody across the aisle so what the flight safety foundation is saying is the layered approach is the best approach which is where mask follows hygiene, wash your hands, don’t touch your mouth, and eyes that the mass should be covering your nose and mouth snug. And if you do all of that, you will be safe. For example, you may be in a ticket counter, you may be going through immigration, for example, you may be at the baggage area. So, so so social distancing may not be achieved at every single point of the journey. So if you have this layered approach and just follow common sense, you’re going to be safe.
Juergen Steinmetz: Nope. When you, when you travel longer distances, for instance, here in Hawaii, everything is taking longer. It takes five hours to get to the nearest point on the US mainland. Is this increasing your risk altogether taking a flight let’s say from Hawaii anywhere to the US mainland?
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: So we haven’t seen any evidence looking internationally at long-distance flights, even 12 hours to 18 hours between Asia and Europe and Asia and, and, and elsewhere where we have seen evidence that the duration has had any effect on the rate of transmission. So that, of course, this data has continued to develop, but we haven’t seen it as I mentioned, the verified cases that we have seen. And in fact, have been published in medical journals are very few, two dozen cases. And there’ve been on both short term, short flights, and long flights,
Juergen Steinmetz: Nope. At some airlines, or I think all of them across the line here in the United States have cut on service tremendously out of safety precautions. And I’m personally don’t understand why this, this, and what they’re really cutting down. When I call it United airlines, I’m at 3 million, my flyer with United. So I’m on the top tier with them for the rest of my life. And I asked him, so if I do take this flight to Germany, what I’m thinking about, and I go business because I don’t get any food, and apparently, I don’t get a lot of food. And w Y is cutting down service necessary. I mean, wouldn’t it be more fun to increase service, so people feel more comfortable and can kill time better.
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: That’s right. No, you’re right. And I think what basically it boils down to is minimizing movement within the cabin. That’s really what it boils down to. Well, as, you know, by the way, the airline crew that the flight attendants are tested on a regular basis. And in fact, their testing shows that they are a fraction, they’re their transmission or they’re transmission virus having the Corona is a fraction of the general population. So we know that they are they’re safe but it’s basically minimizing any movement you know, within the cabin. And you will see that you know, the food is on, you know, the drinks and snacks are on your chair when you go. And so they don’t have to come and, and, and service you and you know, in the interim to get passenger competence back up I think that’s good policy. And we’ll just have to wait for better days when the vaccine is with us to get some good service.
And thank you. And then there seem to have been quite a different, and some people would say more advanced approached in a, for instance, in the Gulf region with Emirates, when they relaunched flights. I know the first flights they had was from Dubai to Tunisia, they’re advertised where everyone needed to get tested and stick a test of 10 minutes. It takes 10 minutes to do it like an hour or so before the flight. So everyone is, let’s say to 68% accuracy. So 68% is the chance that no one has any of the viruses. So if Emirates can do this and stay apparently also mandate different cleaning policies than what we see in the United States. And this is the same with FTI, with Qatar airways and many of the carriers in the Gulf region. Why can’t we live up to that standard?
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: So there are right now no international standards, there are different tests that are being offered by different airlines and different countries. What it boils down to is really the purpose of the tests is certainly if you can do that kind of test everywhere for, for 1.2 billion passengers that flew since January globally of course it would be ideal, but practically speaking in terms of cost, and many things are not as not practical sound possible at the moment, but testing technology is rapidly advancing. As you know, with the, you know, you’ve seen the different news. There, there are different tests are being done now, which would in five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, you’re able to get the results their, their antibody tests, tests, antigen tests, and viral tests that are being done, and they have different accuracy levels.
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: And the real purpose behind those tests is really dealing with this quarantine requirements. Hawaii has 14 days. If you come in, you know, you have to go to a room and, and for 14 days, basically quarantine, well, if you have a test that shows you are virus-free, then you are able to do your business, visit you with loved ones or, or, or go about your business with your vacation. So so right now, what is happening globally, and the foundation is involved in Dennis called four countries and governments to work together, to come up with a rapid, scalable testing standard can be made me administered so that the passenger can take that and go to the destination and not go into quarantine.
Juergen Steinmetz: And that’s definitely a good idea. And you mentioned Hawaii and it’s here locally, a big discussion also in our local news, additional Hawaii news online, where we probably going to link this podcast to a, since we’re now talking about Hawaii, Hawaii is supposed to be opening on October 15th. We have been locked down here. I have not traveled anywhere since March. When I got back from Germany from a non-existing Berlin at Berlin ITB. And after saying it is heartbreaking. And it said for someone like me, who lived here for 30, some years, more than half of my life, when you go to color Avenue in Waikiki, what is usually buzzing with people from all over the world at any time, and you can literally sleep in the middle of the, of color car road, and probably no one would disturb you. So tourism is a major income factor in many destinations.
Juergen Steinmetz: Hawaii is definitely one of them, but then we, that means the people here in Hawaii invested dearly, whether it’s with money when they’re, when they’re emotionally to keep this tape safe and there are many different opinions, should we really open up for tourism? Now, the latest discussion after it’s already decided that we are trying to have the pretesting, allowing people from the US mainland to come here without going through the car and team that there should actually be two tests on the Island of Hawaii, the big known as the Big Island. It’s not participating in the pretesting program. No, the mayor decided it’s not the time yet. So when you traveled it to the Big Island too, and you want to see the volcano or go to Kona, you still have to stay in your hotel room for two weeks. Now, the mayor from Hawaii said, we, everybody purchase 15,000 of the followup testing kids.
And the governor said, Oh, no, no, no, we cannot do that. So they’re fighting Maui, Molly. They’re so frustrated that the mayor said we just recommending for every tourist to get us second test, what does unrealistic or tourists once they get you, they want to go to the beach and not getting another test. And she may are caught from Honolulu. I talked to yesterday, said he would support a second test, but she doesn’t want to make it mandatory. And so where do you stand? And what is the second test and where do you stand with having a second test?
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: Very good idea. And it has to do with the incubation period, right? This is a five-day, six-day incubation period, where if I go get a swap and no swap which is a viral test and it takes 24 hours, you know, whatever to, to get, get the results. Well, from the time I get the test to the time I go to the ticket counter and get on the plane, you know, we know we don’t know what has happened. So I understand the concern about the passenger having been in that asymptomatic incubation period, right, where it’s not very clear whether this passenger has actually the virus or not, but certainly those, those viral tests are very highly accurate. If you have it, it will show that you have this virus 95% accuracy. So that’s very good.
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: Now the point about a second test, which could be optional for passengers is as you arrive at your, to your destination, to Hawaii that, that, that may be an antibody test that you take that’s very fast 10, 15 minutes. And it will tell you you know, whether you’re infected and then you can use that to provide the government to say, I’m not infected, and I can go to about my business. So that’s really the conversation we, the foundation have called out globally for a robust and a, an effective testing regime, whether it’s one test or two tests, a combination of two desks to deal with the issue of incubation, that’s really the, that the, that what’s at stake and what is being discussed. And we advocate following what science is saying and trumps of how to make sure that you minimize that, that the maximize basically the idea of making sure that there is nobody’s infected.
Juergen Steinmetz: Cardboard yesterday about the second testing and how he sees this he, he, he made an interesting point. It is not like when you get in this case to Hawaii after you’ve maybe been tested two weeks, two days before you left, and you get an immediate test, you get a test and you have to actually wait for a total of seven days between the two tests to make it effective. Now, in order to make this effective, would you then recommend to the current team for the time in between that say, you get a test, you traveled three days, data, you go to Hawaii, should you be in your Jeroboam for four days or so to walk around may or Colquitt? I can tell you things we should walk around. And if you had the virus, then we have contact tracers who can trace anyone. What is, of course not realistic,
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: I would just say that we would want to have this policy informed by science. And I think, as I mentioned, the incubation period, that is, that is the asymptomatic passenger who, who is not known, whether this passenger has the virus or not. It’s what science currently says. It’s for five days. So if you have a test two days prior, your, your trip, that’s two days a day of your trip. That’s three days, you know, another two days potentially be in quarantine until your second test, that, that basically bookends right [inaudible] segment. And by taking that second test, you then can say, I do not have the virus because you have now passed that, that, that incubation period but I would again, advocate and the flight safety foundation advocates, letting the science dictate the regime that’s most effective and workable,
Juergen Steinmetz: Right? And so let’s assume you have been tested, you get on an aircraft, but in reality, you’re sick. You just didn’t know about it. What should happen to the rest of the passengers are the rest of the passengers and the crew safe, because there was a worrying mess. And w where do we stand with this?
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: Well so as I mentioned, we have been monitoring and looking over the past six months and all of the data and all of the cases, worldwide, 1.2 billion passengers traveling since January. And there was a period before March, even during March word face masks were not even mandatory. And that came later for many of the airlines. And what we’ve seen is that you do not have cases of the, of transmission at the airport or within, within the aircraft. There are just a few verified cases that have published and refereed journals that have shown two or three cases early on independent MC. So what we believe has happened is with all of the hygiene and the systems that are within the aircraft and masks w a layered approach for you are basically you’re minimizing the risk of transmission within the aircraft.
And we’re traveling tourism, Collin. So yesterday at a discussion we had, and you can actually find on the same livestream.travel and on rebuilding.travel discuss, traveled bubbles in front of the travel above it. I think they have talked about what’s between London and New York. Now, both London and New York are huge cities. A lot of people would have the virus, you cannot avoid it. So how can you have a safe travel bottle bubble between such two major cities,
Dr. Hassan Shahidi:
Right. And I think that is exactly what isn’t right now being worked by the United nations IKO body that is trying to come up with world standards of how to create those travel bubbles or corridors. And as you know, there are a number of players involved in this and most important players. These days are governments and the health organizations within each of the governments, not necessarily the civil aviation authority or in the U S as the FAA, but the world, but CDC and other organizations. And they will have to agree on the protocols of this travel to make sure that, that in fact, if we have asymptomatic passengers that are traveling in that corridor, that in fact through tests pre or post travel test we can determine you know if they have the virus and if they have the virus, they wouldn’t be able to travel
Juergen Steinmetz: It’s it, altogether, would you say going to more, if you wanted to travel, and I think we all do, we all wanted to travel, but if you do travel we’ve talked a lot about the rebuilding of domestic and regional travel. That means traveling what may not involve an aircraft altogether, or just a short flight, is this a safer thing to do, or doesn’t it really make any difference?
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: I don’t think it makes any difference. You know, what we see with passengers through our surveys is that there are two concerns. It’s a safety fly if I go to the airport and if I get on the airplane, and the second question is when I get to my destination, am I stuck? You know, I mean, you know, if I want to see my loved ones, or if I want to be on, on vacation, I’m going to be stuck. Those are the two main concerns. And most passengers and people are not concerned with the second part, which is the ability to do your business and, and go about your life when you, when you get to your destination. And that is really now the focus of these travel bubbles and test protocols to allow passengers when they arrive to be able to free, you know, to go and do their business. So that’s kind of where, where, what we’re seeing, and our analysis show.
Juergen Steinmetz: So maybe finally, there’s been a lot of talk and a lot of initiatives in many parts of the world about keeping people in resorts. I mean, all-inclusive resort. I know sandals, one of our good friends, endurance resort in Jamaica has made this a mission to keep their facilities as safe as they can do under science in any standard. But it’s recommending may be directly or indirectly for people not to leave the resort. I know even here in Hawaii resorts on the Island of Hawaii are had been trying to override the travel current teen requirement as long as people stay in resorts going into Amman Jordan that has been tried with Aqaba as a resort city and Seychelles even goes a step further. And when people are infected and dig it tested in a resort, they have other resorts where these infected people can actually stay together and still enjoy their vacation. Well, what do you think about all of this?
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: Well, I’m not sure if I’m the, I have expertise in, in resorts. My domain is air travel, but I see your point. And I think that as we go down this path, I think that we need to create an environment and protocols to make sure that we manage the virus and we don’t end up trans you know, having transmission of the virus. And there are different strategies in which you can achieve that. And what we want to do is do it in such a way that it’s not a burden. And it’s, it’s, it’s informed by science and it’s informed by practical ways in which you could ensure that if you have an asymptomatic you know, a traveler that, that traveler is known, we have contact tracing, and we’re able to isolate that individual and keep the remaining of the traveler safe.
Thank you so much. And this was quite a fascinating lesson you gave everyone. So what’s your, what’s your final advice? What do you want people to know? How, w where are we going to go from here with our, with, with the aviation industry?
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: Well, I think that as you know there, there is a big impact on global aviation and did research on some, some of these hotspots around the world, as you have seen in the news is not helping the situation. Some of the airlines are struggling. And so what we want to see, hopefully very, very soon a vaccine that will be available to everybody on a, on a wide scale. And meanwhile, for travelers that need to travel to see their loved ones, or go on a vacation, if you follow the golden rules that we have published on our website, which has common sense, including wearing masks, you will have a safe journey and you can go and visit your loved ones,
Juergen Steinmetz: Doctor Shashi, D. This was very interesting, hopefully, we can hear from you again very soon. And so you can keep us updated about what’s going on with your organization, with the flight safety foundation, and the aviation industry in general. Thank you very much. And we say Mahalo from here, and hopefully, we’ll be in touch as well. Okay. So I cut this off, but so thank you so much. I appreciate it. And hopefully, you can take a look at rebuilding dock travel. Maybe it’s something one of your team members if you don’t have time, but anyone could join. I think it’s good to continue this discussion.
Dr. Hassan Shahidi:
It was this informative. I mean, it was, yeah,
Juergen Steinmetz: I think it was very good. And I think we can also, that’s why I part Hawaiian. So we have a local edition, many people don’t know about it’s called Hawaiian news online. So I’m going to put it on there too. And then it’s good for our global edition and for the podcast. So it fits, fits into all of this. What we could actually do with rebuilding. We have zoom sessions, they’re active, they’re Q and A’s w and we’re, we have people from all over the world. We have 120 countries now on board that is participating, and maybe we can, we had created a number of times. Maybe we can have you as a guest. We had a pretty good session with VJ from Singapore before, and what you’re bringing to the table is quite different. So
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: Our only event coming up in a couple of weeks, the 73rd international aviation safety summit a big part of it, of course, is, is focused on the situation right now. We have the secretary-general of [inaudible] Kao, United nations giving opening remarks and it’s over four days, four-time zones. And so right now we’re focused on producing that, and you have a panel of medical doctors from around the world that are actually going to be there discussing the current research and what we know.
Juergen Steinmetz: Yeah. And if you, if you’re joining the rebuilding, our travel, we’ll be happy to put it on our event. The calendar also sorts, we people know about it. I don’t know if it’s public or close to your members, whatever it is, it’s public, but they have to register for it. But yeah, of course. Yes. Yes. Okay. Wonderful. Well, I really appreciate it. So hopefully we get this industry going again.We’re hoping
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: To get this industry going and do it safely and, and get through this and getting, getting tourism back up. I love to come back to Hawaii. I miss Waikiki, are you in Waikiki?
Juergen Steinmetz: I’m very close. I’m next to [inaudible] center. In one of these high rises, you can see could be from my window in the background. So we’re, yeah, we’re very close. Any surfers, any surfers today? But here we don’t see a lot of surfers here. I grew up I’m I grew up, I mean, I lived here for 30 years, but 25 years, I lived on the North shore, very close to one may not be in proper care, and this was surfing capital and I kind of miss it. And I just thought it was time. You get older to go to the, just civilization stuff. But yeah, that was a wonderful surfing bus. Literally, the world could fall apart. People are talking about, what’s the most important
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: I love, I love, I love Hawaii. And yeah, I’d love to get back.
Juergen Steinmetz: Yeah. Yeah. Hopefully, hopefully, you can on the 15th, at least you can, and we see what goes, everyone is bracing for it. We all want to get tourists to come back. I just don’t know.
Dr. Hassan Shahidi:
So why an airline is offering that test? That optional test, I believe Hawaii is
Yeah. And United also they do an instant test in San Francisco. It’s a pilot program. It’s $250 and people say in Hawaiian charge 160. I really don’t think it’s the money. When you have people spending $500 on an average return, Nigeria. Now, what is another $250 to be safe? I couldn’t imagine
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: It’s not a, just to be safe. I think it’s really being able to go about actually having a vacation cause dark. So you’re basically saying I’m going to get paid, spend $250. My ticket, basically you’re saying my ticket is $250 more. So I guess that’s really what it boils down to. And I believe that price is going to drop. I believe the market is going to respond once governments actually accept this on a large scale, right. Markets will come and the industry will come and provide this at a cheaper price.
Juergen Steinmetz: Yeah. And it probably would. But if you look, the danger is I’ve been involved in a lot of other crises, the tsunami crisis. I was on the committee and I worked with the Bali crisis, and the big mistake, many businesses did specifically in Bali, way back at the Bomba attack is to lower prices. So you have a five-star hotel selling $10 more, almost the same price as a two-star, three-star hotels for just mostly family-owned. And then they all go belly up, you know, so I hope this is not happening here. I hope we can keep our prices standard and maybe more invested in getting business back, maybe cover this test for people who stay with you. You, things like this. You know, I would say that the,
Dr. Hassan Shahidi: I really believe that once you have Hawaii accepting this, that, I think you will see that the test price will go down and it will be, it’ll be quicker. You can, you can do it at the airport. You don’t have to have a medical professional doing it, et cetera, et cetera. I really do believe it. So let’s, let’s hold for that.
Juergen Steinmetz: Yes. Well, thank you so much, and thank you again, and hopefully, we’ll be in touch for sure. Great to meet you. Take care. Thank you. Bye-bye.
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