In the year of the pandemic, perhaps we can learn something from airplanes and airline cleaning.
Though air travel rates have understandably dropped during 2020, the work has continued behind the scenes. Airlines and airports have been trying and testing new and enhanced cleaning and disinfection strategies with a focus on infection control, and it seems they work pretty well, at least according to a recent study.
Researchers conducting a test for Boeing recently released a live virus, MS2, into a 737 aircraft in Seattle and made sure to account for factors like altitude, humidity, or airflow changes. The virus, which is harmless to humans, was spread onto “touchpoint” surfaces like seats, armrests, tray tables, overhead stow bins, windows, and washrooms and disinfected with tools like chemical disinfectants, electrostatic sprayers, and antimicrobial coating.
Results showed that the staff’s airline cleaning methods effectively eliminated 99.9% of the virus. Scientists also brought parts of the aircraft into a lab and applied the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the coronavirus was also largely eliminated by these cleaning methods.
While this study took a hands-on approach, others have backed it up. A new study from Aviation Public Health Initiative (APHI) Harvard University suggests that flying during the pandemic is certainly less risky than routine activities like eating at restaurants or going grocery shopping. It notes that current safety measures including ventilation, increased disinfection, mask enforcement, and physical distancing during boarding and deplaning have significantly reduced the risk of contracting the coronavirus while flying.
That study, sponsored by various U.S. airline operators, manufacturers, and airports, says ventilation systems in plane cabins “effectively counter the proximity travellers are subject to during flights.”
Due to the frequent exchange of air and HEPA filters on planes, the study says “over 99 per cent of the particles containing the virus are removed from cabin air,” bringing the risk of COVID-19 transmission to below the level seen in stores and restaurants.