Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)


Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 discovered in Wuhan, China.


In December 2019, the novel coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan.

The outbreak was first reported on 31 Dec. 2019, and came to wide international attention in January 2020. In February 2020, WHO named the disease caused by the virus “coronavirus disease 2019,” which is abbreviated as COVID-19. On 11 March 2020, WHO declared that COVID-19 could be characterized as a pandemic and said it was the first time that a pandemic has been sparked by a coronavirus.


The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough and fatigue.

Other symptoms that are less common and may affect some patients include:

  • Loss of taste or smell,
  • Nasal congestion,
  • Sore throat,
  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint pain,
  • Different types of skin rash,
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills or dizziness
  • Conjunctivits

Symptoms of severe COVID-19 include shortness of breath, loss of appetite, confusion, persistent pain in the chest, and high temperature (above 38 degrees C).

A lost of other, less common symptoms is available on the WHO website.


An accelerated international development program resulted in the first vaccine being approved for emergency use in late 2020. For example, the first person vaccinated in the U.S. received the vaccine on 14 Dec. 2020. In many regions, health care workers, other medical professionals, and elderly/vulnerable populations were prioritized for early vaccinations.

Impact on Aviation

In March 2020, as COVID-19 spread rapidly around the world, air transport activity went into a steep decline. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called 2020 the worst year in history for air travel demand. For the year, global scheduled passenger traffic, as measured in revenue passenger kilometers, fell by 65.9% and capacity, as measured in available seat kilometers, declined 56.5% from 2019 levels.

The sharp decline in passenger traffic, caused by fears of COVID-19 exposure and government efforts to slow the spread of the disease that included border restrictions and quarantine requirements, resulted in thousands of commercial aircraft being grounded, with many being put into long-term storage.

International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) data show that total number of commercial flights operated in 2020 -- including domestic and international passenger and cargo operations -- declined by more more than 15.5 million or 33.8% from 2019 levels. Passenger operations, which make up the majority of commercial flights worldwide, were down 34.6% in 2020. Cargo operations actually increased 2.74%.

ICAO estimates that air carriers lost more than US$372.48 billion in 2020 and that 2.76 billion fewer passengers were carried in 2020 than in 2019. Air navigation service providers lost US$12.93 billion in navigation charge revenue and airports lost US$114.58 billion, ICAO statistics show.

Air travel is expected to recover to some degree in 2021 as more potential travelers are vaccinated and consumer confidence is restored. The breadth and timing of international travel is unclear. Domestic air travel likely is showing greater growth as of early 2021.

Guidance Material

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has issued multiple electronic bulletins (EB) and State letters providing aviation-related information on COVID-19 and outlining State roles (see Further Reading). ICAO has urged member States to implement relevant provisions of ICAO Annex 9, Facilitation, which pertains to the facilitation of landside formalities for clearing aircraft, passengers, goods and mail with respect to the requirements of customs, immigration public health and agriculture authorities. ICAO also urged States to become members of the Work in progress:Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA); enhance national facilitation (FAL) committees by clarifying roles and responsibilities of public health and civil aviation authorities during outbreaks; implement effective collaboration and coordination strategies with all stakeholders; and provide financial and in-kind assistance to support to the CAPSCA programme.

Much of the ICAO COVID-19 work has been undertaken by the ICAO Council's Aviation Recover Task Force (CART), which is intended to provide practical, aligned guidance to governments and industry operators in order to restart the international air transport sector and recover from the impacts of COVID-19 on a coordinated global basis.

Many regulatory organisations, including the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), have published guidance for aviation stakeholders, including operators, airports, air navigation service providers, on how to handle COVID-19. International health organisations, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have issued guidance and recommendations for travelers.

Links to a sampling of the the guidance material can be found in Further Reading. Given the changing situation and the frequency of updates, the Web-based Resources below may be a more valuable tool.

Since February 2020, trade organisations and industry associations have issued guidance on a range of topics, including business continuity places, transporting cargo in passenger cabins, temporary overflow parking of grounded airline fleets, ground handling, facilitating air cargo operations, personal wellbeing, and resuming operations. In April, the tone of some guidance began shifting to preparing for an eventual recovery of operations (See Further Reading).

The CDC, WHO, IATA, ICAO and the EC all have developed web-based guidance and informational material that is updated frequently. Links can be found below under Web-based Resources.

The links in Further Reading and Web-based Resources below will be updated and expanded as necessary as applicable guidance is issued. The lists are representative of the materials available and are by no means exhaustive.

Related Articles

Further Reading







Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)



  • European Union Aviation Safety Agency/European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 Aviation Health Safety Protocol, Operational Guidelines for the management of air passengers and aviation personnel in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, Issue no. 1, 21 May 2020.


European Commission



Flight Safety Foundation







U.S. DOT/Homeland Security/HHS

Web-based Resources

Airports Council International (ACI)

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

European Commission/European Union

European Regions Airline Association (ERA)

European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

Flight Safety Foundation


International Air Transport Association (IATA)

International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)

International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations (IFALPA)

World Health Organisation (WHO)


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