Etihad Airways has entered into a partnership with Australian firm Elenium Automation to test airport technology that helps identify medically at-risk travellers, including passengers who are possibly in the early stages of the Covid-19 virus.

The UAE national airline claims to be the first carrier to test such a technology, which can monitor the temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate of any person using a check-in or information kiosk, a bag drop facility, a security point or immigration gate.

According to Etihad, the Elenium system is designed to automatically suspend the passenger’s self-service check-in if their vital signs indicate possible symptoms of an illness.

At that instance, the system will divert to a teleconference or alert staff on-site for further assessments and decide whether it is safe for the passenger to continue their journey.

The initial trial is expected to be carried out at Abu Dhabi International Airport from late-April through May with a range of volunteers. 

The new technology will be tested on outbound passengers when flights resume.

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Etihad Airways vice-president hub and midfield operations Jorg Oppermann said: “This technology is not designed or intended to diagnose medical conditions. It is an early warning indicator which will help to identify people with general symptoms, so that they can be further assessed by medical experts, potentially preventing the spread of some conditions to others preparing to board flights to multiple destinations.

“It has long been the case that aircraft, with their highly sophisticated air-recycling systems and standards of hygiene are not the transmission vehicle for illnesses. We are testing this technology because we believe it will not only help in the current Covid-19 outbreak, but also into the future, with assessing a passenger’s suitability to travel and thus minimising disruptions.”

Elenium, in collaboration with Amazon Web Services, has developed ‘hands free’ technologies that allow touchless use of self-service devices through voice recognition, further minimising the potential of any viral or bacterial transmission.

Elenium Automation CEO and co-founder Aaron Hornlimann said: “Elenium has lodged patents for both the automatic detection of illness symptoms at an aviation self-service touchpoint, and touchless self-service technology at an airport. Combined, this would ensure health screenings can become standard across airports, without putting staff in harm with manual processes.”

According to Elenium Automation, the system can be retrofitted into any airport kiosk or bag drop or installed as a desktop system at a passenger processing point such as an immigration desk. 

The company believes that the introduction of touchless self-service and automated health screening will encourage passengers to return to travel sooner.