Airlines up in arms over Malaysia's newly announced Covid-19 rules for crew

Airlines up in arms over Malaysia's newly announced Covid-19 rules for crew
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KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 17): Some foreign airlines, which had suspended flights to Malaysia after the country closed its borders in March last year, are holding off plans to reinstate their flights even as Malaysia is set to reopen its borders to international travellers by Jan 1.

This follows impending Covid-19 guidelines that mandate all aircrew of both local and foreign airlines arriving in the country to undergo fever screening and Covid-19 Rapid Antigen (RTK-Ag) tests. And if a crew member is tested positive, he or she is required to undergo a seven-day hotel/home quarantine in the country or until the next flight scheduled. Foreign and local aircrew are currently not required to undergo RTK-Ag tests after arriving in Malaysia.

It is learnt that airlines are up in arms about the latest guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health (MoH) that are due to come into effect on Sunday (Nov 21).

According to industry stakeholders, under the proposed guidelines, foreign aircrew — including pilots, cabin crew, engineers, loadmasters, security and training pilots — will need to take Covid-19 tests every time they arrive in Malaysia and this may take up to two to three hours.

“Crew members are required to have a 10-hour rest period within each 24-hour cycle. Thus, the new RTK-Ag test requirement may affect the optimal rest time available to the crew,” an industry stakeholder, who declined to be named, told theedgemarkets.com.

“Also, according to the circular from MoH, aircrew that have a positive RTK-Ag test result would be quarantined for seven days in the country or until the next flight scheduled. Which is which? If the former, this poses a risk because if the crew member is a pilot who is tested positive for Covid-19, he or she will have to undergo quarantine in Malaysia and this means the flight may not be able to operate at all for a week,” the industry stakeholder said.

“Currently, countries like Singapore and Thailand allow aircrew that are tested positive for Covid-19 to return to their crew base. That’s also why foreign airlines opt to use Singapore and Bangkok as hubs during the pandemic. They gain all the airlines while Kuala Lumpur International Airport loses out.

"If these quarantine measures are put in place, we might see some foreign airlines deciding to stop making layovers altogether in Malaysia because such measures would only add costs to their operation," the industry stakeholder added.

“The new rules are unworkable. That’s making an already slow reopening of borders in Malaysia harder. You have also seen how Hong Kong’s latest quarantine policy has forced FedEx Corp to relocate its crew base in Hong Kong to San Francisco,” another industry stakeholder said.

The South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday that global delivery giant FedEx was closing its crew base in Hong Kong and relocating pilots overseas because of the city's strict anti-coronavirus measures.

The announcement came a day after Hong Kong — the world's busiest international cargo hub — sent more than 100 Cathay Pacific cargo pilots into mandatory 21-day quarantine after three tested positive for the coronavirus upon returning from Germany.

This comes as airlines are trying to reduce their monthly cash burn, according to news reports. Cathay reportedly said the requirement for crew to quarantine could add as much as HK$400 million to its monthly cash burn, which is already as high as HK$1.5 billion due to an unprecedented slump in demand for air travel.

S Kanagaraju