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Arab News, Sunday, May 3, 2020 | Ramadan 10, 1441

From cleaning to screening, robots join fight against COVID-19 at Abu Dhabi Airport

Emirates: Robots are being rolled out at Abu Dhabi airport to disinfect public areas and screen passengers using infrared thermal technology.

The robots will be piloted this month throughout Abu Dhabi International Airport, including in staff areas and cargo facilities. It will also be used as part of cabin cleaning processes on passenger aircraft, the company said in a statement on Saturday.

“The acute impact of the pandemic would have heightened our overall sense of awareness toward hygiene, and as a vital piece of public infrastructure, we have a clear responsibility to ensure our spaces remain clear of any virus threat,” said Shareef Hashim Al-Hashmi, CEO of Abu Dhabi Airports. “By deploying artificial intelligence, it adds another layer of protection and builds on our comprehensive response to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Airports worldwide are rapidly deploying new technology and robotics in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus that has already killed at least 200,000 people globally while establishing new procedures for arriving passengers.

Hong Kong International Airport is currently trialing the use of sanitizing booths where passengers undergo a 40-second disinfection process and have their temperatures scanned simultaneously. Airport chiefs will decide at the end of the month whether to make it a permanent feature. Like Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong is also using autonomous cleaning robots.

The adoption of such technologies is especially urgent for the big Gulf hubs such as Dubai International Airport, which handled 86.4 million passengers in 2019, making it the world’s busiest hub for international passengers.

But getting the balance between passenger safety and airport efficiency right will be a challenge, say aviation consultants. Social distancing also creates obvious logistical difficulties, with the potential for check in queues to quickly lengthen and clog up open spaces in terminals, slowing passenger throughput and potentially creating delays.

“Some kind of health checking seems to be a likely pre-requisite for any return to ‘normal’ travel, aviation consultant John Strickland told Arab News. “However technology and simplicity will be essential. In any airport with high volumes of traffic any small extension of time in process, even seconds, could multiply up to creating delays and inability to maintain punctual and reliable schedules including the ability to offer viable connecting flights.”

Emirates last month started to conduct blood tests for departing passengers with the first ones carried out on a flight to Tunisia with the results available in 10 minutes.

It is scaling up its testing capacity so that it can transport passengers to countries that require COVID-19 test certificates. Passengers are also required to wear their own masks when at the airport and onboard aircraft.

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