General aviation

Edmonton International to try rapid COVID test

Edmonton International Airport partners with local company to deploy rapid COVID test

Process promises results in under a minute

Edmonton International covid test
The control tower at Edmonton International Airport (photo: Twitter/@flyeia).

Edmonton International Airport said Thursday it partnering with a local company to try a rapid test that could tell passengers if they’re infected with COVID-19 in under a minute. The test’s backers hope is it may end the need for travel restrictions or quarantine periods.

“We all want travel to get back to normal and a rapid COVID-19 test will accelerate this return while enhancing passenger confidence in the safety of our industry,” said Tom Ruth, Edmonton International’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “While we have seen some growth in recent months, our passenger numbers during COVID-19 continue to remain low and a test like this is crucial to our future.”

The pandemic has decimated air travel in Canada. In July, Edmonton handled just 115,000 people in its terminal, down almost 84% from 2019.

Airports in Canada rely on passengers and the fees they generate for most of their revenue. The downturn, therefore, has massively hurt airport revenues. The Canadian Airports Council predicts the largest airports will lose more $4 billion in revenue this year and next. As a result, airports have cut staff, closed parts of their terminals, and cancelled construction projects.

Global implications

A rapid and user-friendly COVID test could have global implications for the aviation industry. Governments around the world closed their borders to tourists at the outset of the pandemic.

Canada’s borders remain closed to most non-citizens. And anyone entering the country must quarantine for 14 days, with few exceptions.

Edmonton-based GLC Medical is developing the test, which is in clinical and safety trials. The airport provides a perfect test site, the company said, with its steady stream of passengers in an environment accustomed to heavy regulation and strict standards.

GLC promises a number of benefits, not least of which is the elimination of nasal swabs to collect samples. Passengers would provide a saliva sample into a testing unit. The unit would then analyze the results and display either a green (safe) or red (infected) light. The whole process would take seconds. GLC said staff administering the tests would not need medical training. They would instead get training similar to a first aid course.

“The opportunity to collaborate with EIA, a world-respected airport authority, to enable travel and to bring families back together is very rewarding for us,” said Donna Mandau, the President and CEO of Graphene Leaders Canada. “This graphene-enhanced rapid test demonstrates the power of graphene innovation to overcome the challenges of COVID-19.”

Pushing for a restart

The International Air Transport Association said this week that systematic COVID testing before departure is key to restarting international air travel.

“Testing all passengers will give people back their freedom to travel with confidence,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel.”

Other Canadian trials may also help reassure nervous travellers it’s safe to be in a plane again. Air Canada is working with Toronto International Airport to collect data on people arriving in the country from overseas. Westjet is partnering with Vancouver International Airport to launch an unidentified rapid COVID test.

“All airlines, airports and the whole travel and hospitality sector are looking for this solution,” said Ruth. “If EIA can play a role in bringing new technology and science forward by partnering with experts like GLC that’s exactly what we’re going to do. This is an exciting opportunity for all of us.”

GLC and the airport are choosing a test site. They expect to outline testing details and processes in the coming weeks. The clinical trial would last several weeks through the fall.

Regulators in Canada and the United States, among other countries, would then have to certify the test for wider use.

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Categories: General aviation

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