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Airlines see the light with sanitizing technology

Posted 14 July 2021 · Add Comment

Aviation is taking its lead from medical science with the introduction of sanitizing technologies designed and tested against viral and bacterial pathogens.

Portable: Honeywell developed its UV treatment wand for greater portability and ease of use in small spaces. Picture: Honeywell.

The application of hospital-grade technology to the job of disinfecting aircraft highlights how the Covid-19 crisis is shifting the focus back to safety and hygiene from ‘passenger experience’ considerations, such as speed of connectivity and in-flight entertainment.

It was only a matter of time, said a Middle East aerospace industry observer, before ultraviolet (UV) cleaning migrated from operating theatres to aircraft cabins, many of which already have equal, if not superior, airflow filtration systems.

He added: “I have more confidence in a robotic UV system than a couple of people quickly wiping seats down.”

Qatar Airways claimed a first when it added Honeywell’s UV cabin system to the enhanced on-board hygiene measures that it credits with keeping its aircraft in the air.

The Doha-based flag-carrier initially took six systems from Honeywell, and was expected to acquire additional units to treat all its aircraft as part of their turnaround servicing.

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways Group chief executive, said: “Since the start of the pandemic, we have been regularly introducing new and effective safety and hygiene measures on board our aircraft.

During these unprecedented times, the health and safety of our crew and passengers continues to be of the utmost importance.”

Qatar Airways deploys the system at Hamad International Airport (HIA), itself no stranger to UV technology: it has introduced disinfectant robots – fully autonomous mobile devices emitting concentrated UV-C (or deep ultraviolet) light – to treat areas of high passenger flow to reduce the spread of pathogens.

Among other regional carriers, Saudia was also quick off the mark. It introduced UV-C technology, in cooperation with the Saudi Company for Ground Services, to sanitize its aircraft before and after every flight. It takes 10 minutes to fully treat a medium-sized cabin, the airline said.

The Honeywell system is roughly the size of a standard drinks trolley, is designed to neutralise viruses and bacteria with UV-C light – a process with a long record of use in hospitals. In the confined space of an aircraft cabin, the system uses extendable arms to reach seats and surfaces, row by row. No cleaning chemicals are used.

Honeywell quickly recognised its customers’ needed another option that was more portable and easier to use in small spaces. It responded with the Honeywell UV treatment wand, which it has just rolled out.

Brian Wenig, Honeywell Aerospace vice-president, mechanical systems and components, said: “With this new system, smaller aircraft and other vehicles, like trains and buses, can benefit from the same proven UV-C technology shown to reduce various viruses and bacteria.”

A UV-C wand has also been introduced by Boeing, after successful tests in its latest ecoDemonstrator programme aboard an Etihad Airways B787-10. It was the first airline evaluation of the device, and showed that the 787 flight deck could be disinfected in less than 15 minutes.

The self-contained apparatus, which resembles a carry-on suitcase, is particularly suited for confined spaces, such as cockpits, where passing the UV light over high-touch surfaces leaves them sanitised everywhere the light reaches. Research confirms the effectiveness of the 222 nanometre UV-C light that it uses.

The wand is manufactured for Boeing by US sanitisation technology company, Healthe.

Another option for airlines is bipolar ionisation. Unlike UV-C light, which does not occur naturally, ionisation is “a fundamental part of the ecosystem” and has been used in home and medical environments to neutralise pathogens.

Satair, the Airbus component and service company, says it has had “concrete enquiries” from the Middle East about the system from Aviation Clean Air (ACA) that it markets as “the only proactive system that immediately decontaminates interior air and neutralises pathogens throughout the aircraft”.

Recent tests conducted by independent laboratories found that ACA’s needlepoint bipolar ionisation (NPBI) technology is effective against both airborne and surface spread of bacterial contaminants and viral strains, including Covid-19. It reaches all parts of the cabin that a manually operated UV-C light source might not.

Reviewed by Chuck Grieve.

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