COVID-19 Aviation Health Safety Protocol: Operational guidelines for the management of air passengers and aviation personnel in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic

Technical guidance

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have updated their joint Aviation Health Safety Protocol providing clear operational guidance and risk-based recommendations for health-safe air travel to complement the European Union’s initiatives, such as the EU Digital COVID Certificates.

This third version of the protocol takes into account new evidence and information such as the circulation of variants of concern (VOCs) and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination programmes. The protocol is intended to provide support to national authorities in Member States and to aviation stakeholders.

Executive summary

This document is intended to provide support to Member States’ national authorities and aviation stakeholders to ensure, in a coordinated manner, the health and safety of passengers and the aviation personnel who serve them, by maintaining safe and secure operations whilst minimising the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

The document incorporates the latest scientific evidence and expert opinion from ECDC and EASA as well as the latest initiatives of the European Union, such as the EU Digital COVID Certificate (DCC) and the digital Passenger Locator Form (dPLF) and the Council Recommendations on international travel to the EU and intra-EU free movement.

The document presents recommended non-pharmaceutical interventions and other measures customised for each stage of the journey as well as risk-based recommendations for entry measures for the three categories of people:

  • Persons fully vaccinated according to manufacturers’ recommendations,
  • Persons who recovered from COVID-19 within the previous 180 days,
  • Persons who were not vaccinated and who did not recover from COVID-19 in the previous 180 days.

Countries should consider that vaccinated persons and persons who recovered from COVID-19 within the previous 180 days, who are not arriving from very high-risk countries or areas with community circulation of Variants of Concern (VOCs) and who can provide evidence of that by using the DCC, or for third country nationals by using similar means of certification, should not be subject to testing or quarantine. Exceptionally, for such passengers arriving from very high-risk countries or areas with community circulation of Variants of Concern (VOCs) Rapid Antigen Detection Test (RADT) testing could be considered before departure or upon arrival.

Verification of a proof of health or of a DCC, from a health safety perspective, is best organised arriving at the airport. If verification has been reliably completed prior to departure, repeated checking later on in the journey, including notably at arrival, serves little medical purpose, and could lead to unnecessary queuing.

For persons who are not vaccinated and/or who have not recovered from COVID-19 in the previous 180 days, a risk-based approach to entry measures should be considered based on the risk in the country of origin and the risk tolerance in the country of destination in accordance with the recommendations provided in Section 4 of the document.

These recommendations aim to ensure the health and safety of air passengers in a coordinated manner in order to avoid duplication and limit as much as possible queuing and the time spent by the passengers in travel (in the terminal building, aircraft or in-between). In this regard the document emphasises the use of ‘one-stop’ principles and the importance of a risk-based approach in accordance with safety management system principles. Member States should ensure that their travel-related measures are well and in time communicated and coordinated, and not imposed unilaterally in order to facilitate compliance by travellers.

It is expected that the preventive measures recommended in these operational guidelines can be gradually scaled back over time in line with a reduction of the risk level through the roll out of vaccination campaigns.

ECDC and EASA are constantly monitoring the epidemiological situation and will adjust the current recommendations as appropriate.