A UK group calling themselves Caircraft has urged airlines to convert their grounded planes into intensive care wards. To treat COVID-19 patients as an influx of those requiring treatment puts pressure on traditional hospitals. The group is eyeing up larger widebody planes like Airbus A380s and A340s. Many of which have already been parked up by UK-based airlines that would ordinarily use these aircraft types.
The Caircraft plan would involve stripping the planes of normal seats and refitting them with intensive care beds and other medical equipment like ventilators. Caircraft says they have received support from airlines, airports, and regulators for the plan.
Caircraft hasn’t named what airlines have thrown their weight behind the idea but the New York Times said Virgin Atlantic and British Airways may have been involved in talks. Both airlines have already volunteered their staff to help in the fight against Coronavirus, while some airports have given over space for things like temporary mortuaries.
According to sources quoted by The Times, at one point Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport was being considered as a field hospital.
Yet, however well-intentioned plans are to fit out idle planes with as many as 100 beds each, they are unlikely to be needed. The British government has already fitted out an exhibition center in East London with up to 4,000 intensive care beds. And has plans for several more so-called Nightingale hospitals across the UK.
The health service has already freed up 33,000 beds to deal with the surge in cases. Has acquired 8,000 extra beds in private hospitals and other field hospitals in Birmingham, Manchester and elsewhere will offer between 500 to 3,000 beds each.
Aviation economist Chris Tarry, though, says that the Caircraft plan is highly scaleable and a typical widebody plane could be converted in just 10-days. Along with entrepreneur Nick Dyne, Jonathan Sackier, and Visiting Professor of Surgery at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences, Tarry has approached several countries about the idea including the United States and Canada, Germany and Malaysia.
The idea is reminiscent of an offer from Princess Cruise Lines to offer up some of their ships as floating field hospitals. Despite the fact that cruise ships have proved to be highly dangerous incubators of the virus. Unlike cruise ships, however, most aircraft are fitted with powerful HEPA air filters. That provides a safe supply of air equivalent to what is used in hospital operating theatres.