AirAsia Chief Safety Officer, Captain Ling Liong Tien
'New normal': Frontliner pilot explains how COVID-19 changed travel
( - April 27, 2020 - 6:37pm

MANILA, Philippines — Pre-COVID-19 (novel coronavirus disease 2019) sounds like the distant past to most of us now and nearly everything has changed, including safety standards on how we keep all of our aircraft serviceable and safe throughout our hibernation period. 

In the first part of a seven-series video on flying post-COVID-19, AirAsia Chief Safety Officer, Captain Ling Liong Tien, provides some insights on what they are doing to ensure that flying continues to be safe when the skies re-open for all of us to travel again.

According to Capt. Ling, the company's airlines within the AirAsia Group have stringent safety management systems set up, and most importantly - are IOSA-certified (for the exception of AirAsia Japan, which is in the process). The IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) is a global standard on operational safety management.

The company has been involved in several repatriations and humanitarian flights in the past two months from destinations in China, India, Iran, Italy, the Philippines, Turkey, Cambodia and more. 

"A lot of care and thought go into preparing for these flights because there could be scenarios where guests that are evacuated from a particular pandemic zone might not be granted entry into a third country should any diversions take place due to any unforeseen or technical circumstances. So putting the flight plan together is an important step, but that’s for another story," Ling said.

Back to the measures we take to ensure that all crew and passengers on board are safe during these type of flights, here are some of the things we do: 

  • Mandatory social distancing 
  • Health checks and screening before the flight 
  • Disinfecting aircraft and baggage
  • All crew to don personal protective equipment
  • Pilots’ SOPs on flight and personal safety in operations
  • Ramp loaders personal protection when loading baggage, and 
  • Engineering safety when managing aircraft servicing and turnaround needs 

"But above all, I’d like to give a big shoutout to all the crew who were involved in each and every repatriation / humanitarian flight for their sacrifice in doing their part for their countries. You’re all heroes in my eyes."

How often are your aircraft cleaned / disinfected? How is it done? 

"All of our aircraft go through regular disinfection procedures, which have been ramped up and enhanced in light of what we’re facing right now. The cleaning, sanitising and disinfecting products that we use to clean our aircraft are all approved by the Public Health Authority as well as the aircraft manufacturer, which is Airbus in our case," said the captain.

All the procedures are done in accordance with the Airbus Aircraft Maintenance Manual (AMM). At every night stop, each aircraft goes through a thorough two-hour cleaning procedure, in compliance with instructions from health authorities. Usually, there’s a team of 5 - 6 people disinfecting each aircraft. 

The team that coordinates all of this is our Maintenance Operation Controller (MOC), and here are the usual steps taken during each disinfection session: 

Step 1: Aircrafts doors are to be opened
Step 2: Clean and dry the entire surface area with clean cloth and water
Step 3: Aircraft to be ventilated (if required)
Step 4: All aircraft equipment and furnishing (which include the cockpit, galleys, lavatories, passenger seating area, cargo compartment) will be disinfected with approved chemical
Step 5: All clinical waste to be managed as per standard clinical hazardous waste procedures
Step 6: Disinfectant chemicals will be applied via gun-spray

How safe is the air inside the cabin of an aircraft? 

"We get asked that a lot more than you think! We’d like to assure everyone that your safety really is our highest priority, and we are happy to share that all of our aircraft uses HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arresters) aircraft filtration system which filters 99.999% of dust particles and airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria."

Do you think flying will ever be the same again? 

"A lot of our normal life has taken a ‘new normal’ turn. And flying will just be one of them. But that just means that we are travelling with heightened steps when it comes to safety and health, which is good for everyone."

What additional measures do travelers have to take given the current situation? 

"Yes, there are a few different measures that need to be enforced to make sure that both our employees and guests can travel safely. Most notably would be a new policy requiring all our guests to bring and wear their own masks before, during and after the flight, including during check in and bag collection. Guests without a mask will be denied boarding. 

We also have a new cabin baggage policy to facilitate social distancing especially during embarkation and disembarkation, we will only allow ONE piece of cabin baggage not exceeding 5 kg for each guest. This will help minimise unwanted contact between you and another guest’s baggage and vice versa. More details are available here.

There will also be temperature checks at different checkpoints, including boarding gates. And all of our crew will also go through temperature checks after every shift. 

Of course, social distancing will need to be observed, so there will be floor markers at queuing areas, including check-in counters & kiosks. And another safety precaution will be alternate check-in counters to ensure sufficient distance, and we are also working to have contactless check-in processes as well. 

While you are in the aircraft, you’ll be happy to know that all our cabin crew will be wearing protective equipment including masks and gloves.

The meals that you will be having onboard are produced and packaged hygienically following strict food safety requirements. All production staff will regularly be monitored on COVID-19 guidelines. Aside from that, all cabin crew handling menu items will wear disposable gloves. 

Moreover, our cabin crew are all trained with procedures on how to manage suspected patients or passengers who are unwell onboard. 

You can also expect to fill up health declaration forms before or on arrival at your respective destinations. And most importantly, it is important that you check your eligibility to travel before booking your flights."

According to the pilot, these will be their company's "new normal" in the near future

"And of course, we hope that the situation will gradually improve soon," he said. "Safety is the most crucial component of the aviation industry, and we will definitely continue to strive towards ensuring that this ever-important mode of connectivity meets all required health and safety standards for both our employees and our guests."

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