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Airline Seals: Securing the Future of Air Travel

The aviation industry is an important element of world trade and logistics. Many manufacturers rely on airlines daily to get their products and people where they need to be. This has dramatically changed as the Coronavirus has raged on across the globe and restrictions and regulations have had to be responded to. Over the years, there has been a significant shift in the use of security seals on aircrafts and flights. Used predominantly as an identifier and signaller of the tampering of goods, there is much more demanded of their application. Now, airlines are utilizing security seals for health and safety (in response to COVID-19), aircraft threats and tracing luggage through the transport chain.

Why Security Seals are Important for Aviation

There is a high volume of cargo moving through an airport at any given time – whether it be people or goods. Without proper monitoring or detection devices, there is no way to know that the equipment, fuel, luggage, and other materials on board have not been tampered with. Security seals and associated devices have always been a key tool in tamper detection.

Various operations within the aviation industry require security, much more so than in the past. For example, cargo and luggage containers are sealed with plastic padlock seals to protect shipments, while carts accessed by onboard crew require a smaller seal which can be opening easily by hand. However, stronger seals are needed to protect valves, storage areas, and other less frequently accessed areas. Tamper evident tape and adhesive labels help seal stretch-wrapped cargo or cargo on pallets. Application goes as far as aircraft doors and hatches to deter and detect attempts of unauthorized entrance.

There are many different types of seals, each with their own procedures for handling, inspection, and disposal. There are key markings, colour codes, and other identifiers that make it so that people who are authorized to handle the items can do so, and there is clear evidence of attempts at unauthorized access.  They are apparent and can be quickly detected by trained personnel to easily observe a change in a seals initial application.

The aviation industry remains one of the most tightly-regulated industries which has only further developed over time. There are complex standards for maintenance, performance, safety, food, equipment, luggage, and so much more, that there is absolutely no room for error. The smallest deviation from safety standards can be disastrous for the airline company and dangerous for staff and passengers.

The impact of COVID-19 on Airlines

Since the beginning of 2020, more and more countries across the globe shut down borders and limit domestic travel as a response to the coronavirus outbreak. Aviation is of huge strategic and economic importance to the UK and the sudden and almost complete shutdown of passenger air travel due to COVID-19 had a severe economic impact on airlines, airports and air freight.

Aviation was naturally one of the first industries to be significantly affected, as national governments closed international borders to prevent non-essential travel. Thousands of holidaymakers and business travellers saw pre-booked flights get cancelled. This has resulted in the International Airport Transports Association (IATA) to predicate a loss in revenue of £20.1 billion for the UK aviation industry in 2020.

The safety of passengers and staff, along with the concern of transmitting the virus across borders has resulted in many governments restricting inbound and outbound travel, limiting access through air travel for millions of people. World Governments have implemented a ‘non-essential travel’ policy to limit the potential of the virus being brought and spread from external entry into the country.

More vigorous health screening at airports has been proposed as a long-term alternative, or an accompaniment, to quarantine measures. Heathrow Airport for example launched a temperature screening trial on 21 May. Another proposal is “health passports”, whereby facial biometrics are used to provide a digital certificate to verify whether the passport holder has had Covid-19. However, the reliability of Covid-19 tests has been questioned, with warnings that there is insufficient evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 are immune from a second infection.

These strategies may be a reasonable goal over the next 18 months, but they will take time to research, test and implement at full-scale. A short-term solution to assist in providing safety assurances to passengers may be implementing a site-wide security sealing strategy. This would aid in limiting access to areas for passengers and staff, enabling a track-and-trace system for belongings, and providing a sanitation indicator for rooms, cabinets and food and drink trolleys.

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