The International Air Transport Association said there have been just 44 cases of Covid-19 in which transmission is thought to have been associated with a flight.

The figures cover the period from the start of 2020, during which about 1.2 billion passengers have travelled on planes.

Dr David Powell, Iata’s medical advisor, said: “The risk of a passenger contracting Covid-19 while onboard appears very low.

“With only 44 identified potential cases of flight-related transmission among 1.2 billion travellers, that’s one case for every 27 million travellers.

“We recognise that this may be an underestimate but even if 90% of the cases were un-reported, it would be one case for every 2.7 million travellers.

“We think these figures are extremely reassuring. Furthermore, the vast majority of published cases occurred before the wearing of face coverings inflight became widespread.”

The figures come from joint research by manufacturers Airbus, Boeing and Embraer which shows that airflow systems on aircraft do control the movement of particles in the cabin, limiting the spread of viruses.

Also, the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters and the natural barrier of the seatback help to reduce the risk of disease transmission on board.

Iata said the addition of mask-wearing adds a “further and significant extra layer of protection, which makes being seated in close proximity in an aircraft cabin safer than most other indoor environments”.

Powell added: “Managed queuing, contactless processing, reduced movement in the cabin, and simplified onboard services are among the multiple measures the aviation industry is taking to keep flying safe.”

Alexandre de Juniac, Iata’s director general and chief executive, commented: “There is no single silver-bullet measure that will enable us to live and travel safely in the age of Covid-19.

“But the combination of measures that are being put in place is reassuring travellers the world over that Covid-19 has not defeated their freedom to fly.

“Nothing is completely risk-free. But with just 44 published cases of potential inflight Covid-19 transmission among 1.2 billion travellers, the risk of contracting the virus on board appears to be in the same category as being struck by lightning.”