Qantas has landed itself in hot water with the NSW safety watchdog after an inspection revealed the airline may be putting workers and passengers at risk of catching coronavirus.
Workplace regulator Safework NSW has issued the kangaroo carrier with an improvement notice for potentially exposing passengers and workers to risk of “injury or illness” from inadequate cleaning processes on aircraft “that may have transported passengers with infectious disease”.
The inspector said they observed aircraft cleaners required to handle “wet and used tissues, used face masks and soiled nappies” with workers also advising they occasionally have to clean vomit and blood off surfaces.
“I also observed workers wiping over multiple tray tables with the same wet cloth with no disinfectant and cleaning unknown liquids on floors and surfaces,” the inspector said.
The inspector also said PPE (personal protection equipment) was not mandated for the majority of the mentioned tasks.
Safework has advised Qantas must consult with an expert on hygiene and infection control, consult with aircraft cleaners on implementing a safe system of work, provide protective gear to workers and assess how they come into contact with bodily fluids.
The improvement notice advises Qantas must comply by 30 March or it will face fines of up to $250,000.
A spokesperson from Qantas told Travel Weekly they are investigating the claims and are considering appealing the notice.
“Qantas is not known for being complacent when it comes to safety or the cleanliness of our aircraft,” the spokesperson said.
“All of our Fleet Presentation teams are provided with personal protective equipment for cleaning the aircraft and for more hazardous items, we have additional equipment such as masks and safety suits.”
This comes as Qantas was forced to cancel a flight from Sydney to London last night to clean the A380 after a passenger who travelled on the aircraft tested positive for coronavirus, the Australian reported.
“While Qantas Medical has assessed the risk as extremely low, we are doing some additional cleaning of those aircraft as a precaution,” a Qantas spokesperson told the outlet.
“This is in addition to the normal clean that takes place after each international flight.”
The spokesperson confirmed passengers affected by the cancellation would be moved to the next available flight.
Air New Zealand is also in the process of deep cleaning one of its aircraft after a passenger who flew with the airline from Singapore to Aukland in addition to two domestic flights tested positive for the virus.
A Virgin Australia flight was also exposed to the virus when a man travelling from Iran to Launceston via Malaysia tested positive.
IATA requests suspension of slot rules
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling on airline regulators around the world to suspend rules governing the use of airport slots for the 2020 season in light of the reduced number of flyers as a result of the virus.
According to the association, the rules for slot allocation mean that airlines must operate at least 80 per cent of their allocated slots under normal circumstances. Failure to comply with this means the airline loses its right to the slot the next equivalent season.
However, carriers are experiencing a 26 per cent reduction across their entire operation compared with last year, and many carriers are reporting 50 per cent no-shows across several markets.
Future bookings are softening and carriers are reacting with measures such as crew being given unpaid leave, freezing of pay increases, and plans for aircraft to be grounded.
“IATA research has shown that traffic has collapsed on key Asian routes and that this is rippling throughout the air transport network globally, even between countries without major outbreaks of COVID-19,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
“There are precedents for previous suspension of the slot use rules and we believe the circumstances again calls for a suspension to be granted. We are calling for regulators worldwide to help the industry plan for today’s emergency, and the future recovery of the network, by suspending the slot use rules on a temporary basis.
“The world is facing a huge challenge to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while enabling the global economy to continue functioning.
“Airlines are on the front line of that challenge and it’s essential that the regulatory community work with us to ensure airlines are able to operate in the most sustainable manner, both economically and environmentally, to alleviate the worst impacts of the crisis.”