APEX Insight: Keeping cabins hygienic is not only passenger-friendly; it is essential to ensuring the continuity of air travel services. Innovative technologies, including an antimicrobial surface treatment by Recaro and fabrics with antibacterial properties by Lantal, are helping to reduce the spread of germs on airplanes.
Keeping cabins hygienic is not only passenger-friendly; it is essential to ensuring the continuity of air travel services. As peak incidents of disease breakouts have proven in the past, airlines may be forced to cancel flights or limit service to certain regions when there is a pronounced risk of inadvertently transporting dangerous pathogens.
A 2006 study by Brownstein JS, Wolfe CJ, and Mandl KD called Empirical Evidence for the Effect of Airline Travel on Inter-Regional Influenza Spread in the United States, proved that there is a connection between air travel and the spread of influenza. “We found that domestic airline travel volume in November (mostly surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday) predicts the rate of influenza spread,” report the authors. “We also found that international airline travel influences the timing of influenza mortality.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study on the nexus between air travel and the spread of Ebola from 2014 to 2016, recommending increased border controls and risk assessments. While these are essential to protecting passengers from deadly infections, they have also proven disruptive to air travel.
“In most newer-model airplanes, the recycled air passes through high-efficiency particulate air filters, which capture 99.9 percent of particles.” – The Center for Disease Control and Prevention
During a breakout of SARS in 2003, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) coordinated efforts with IATA and ICAO to reduce the risk of spreading the disease. Those recommendations changed the way many passengers travel, and continue to do so even today. Some passengers in Asia still rely on face masks while traveling to reduce the risk of contamination. When these events occur, they leave a mark in the passenger psyche and add another layer of stress to the travel process.
While technology has improved over the past decade, there is still a lot of work ahead. The CDC finds the risk of spreading airborne disease is significantly decreased by modern aircraft, but surfaces can still be problematic. “In most newer-model airplanes, the recycled air passes through high-efficiency particulate air filters, which capture 99.9 percent of particles (bacteria, fungi, and larger viruses or virus clumps),” the agency states. “However, some diseases may be spread by contact with infected secretions, such as when an ill person sneezes or coughs and the secretions land on someone’s face (mouth, nose, eyes) or by touching a contaminated surface, then touching one’s face with contaminated hands.”
Recaro has introduced an antimicrobial treatment for the plastic surfaces on seats, which the manufacturer claims can address many of these risks of contagion by contact. Thanks to the antibacterial properties of the coating, 99 percent of bacteria disappears within three hours, and over 99.9 percent disappears after 24 hours.
“Thanks to the antimicrobial properties of the coating, germs disappear within a short time.” — René Dankwerth, Recaro
While Recaro’s treatment posed a challenge to certification – any time the basic composition of cabin material is altered, components must pass new burn tests – it felt the benefit to passenger safety and comfort justified the process. There are also advantages to airline maintenance operations. “We equip our seats with an easy-to-clean surface that makes it even easier for airlines and the cleaning crew in an aircraft to keep the cabin and seats sanitary, said René Dankwerth, head of Research and Development at Recaro. “Furthermore, thanks to the antimicrobial properties of the coating, germs disappear within a short time.”
Antimicrobial treatments for textiles are also being introduced: Lantal has included antimicrobial properties in its Trevira CS Bioactive fabrics,which retain their germ-killing properties even after 100 wash cycles. Airbus and Boeing have both looked at different ways to keep cabins hygienic, using gel coatings and UV lights. Zodiac Aerospace has looked into the possibilities of “washing” cabins entirely with a burst of UV lighting that would kill the majority of harmful germs and pathogens. The GermFalcon hopes to encourage airlines to disinfect the cabin more often with a rapid cleaning process that can be performed even during short turnaround time. And Delta has considered the health of its staff by introducing antimicrobial finishes to its new Zac Posen crew uniforms.