Vice president commercial sales and marketing – Middle East, Africa and Turkey, Boeing, Omar Arekat underlines the safety measures in place that are protecting passengers and helping to get global travellers in the air once more.
Now that summer is here, and with travel restrictions gradually being lifted, many of us are considering getting away for a holiday or taking a break to see family and friends abroad. And although social distancing is now second nature, and the face mask has become a fashion accessory, there’s one aspect of foreign travel that some people might not be so sure of – namely, whether or not it is safe to fly?
COVID-19 raises many concerns for travellers and one of the biggest worries is that sitting in an airliner cabin, surrounded by strangers for several hours might pose something of a health risk. Now, Boeing is seeking to reassure passengers through a new initiative that explains the precautions that are being taken to ensure that air travel is as safe and hygienic as possible, and highlights new measures that are being developed to protect passengers.
Three steps to safer air travel
Boeing’s Confident Travel Initiative is aligning efforts across all parts of the travel sector, including airlines and airports, to create a coordinated response to COVID-19 and to minimise the risks for travellers. Protecting air travellers requires a multi-layered approach, Boeing says, with three key steps to keeping travellers safe.
The first step is preventing the virus from boarding the airplane. It is everyone’s responsibility to look after themselves by practicing physical distancing, washing and sanitising hands, and avoiding travel if feeling unwell. In line with international recommendations, passengers and crew should wear masks during the flight.
Airport authorities are doing their part to keep COVID-19 off the aircraft by screening and sometimes testing passengers before they check in for flights.
The second step is keeping the airplane virus-free. Based on international guidelines, Boeing is working with airlines to develop comprehensive approaches to cleaning and disinfecting the airplane cabin.
The third step is maintaining a healthy cabin environment in the air. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the cabins and flight decks of all Boeing aircraft were protected with air filtration systems that use HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters – the same filters that are in use in hospitals – to trap harmful particles from the air.
Boeing aircrafts are equipped with air filtration systems, which draw in air from outside and refresh the air in the cabin every two to three minutes. Before air is directed back into the cabin, it passes through the HEPA filters, which remove over 99.9 per cent of viruses and bacteria from the air, meaning that the air you breathe in-flight is fresh and free from harmful particles.
Designed for clean and fresh cabin air
The onboard air filtration systems have been developed over many years by Boeing, based on medical research and experience in protecting against previous epidemics, such as SARS. Air is circulated around 20-30 times in an hour and approximately half of the cabin air is fresh air drawn in from outside.
Another important part of the design, is that airflow in the cabin has been engineered to go from ceiling to floor, not front of the cabin to the back, which minimises the spread of any possible harmful particles around the cabin and from person to person. The air filtration system also provides the air that comes through the overhead vents, in a mix of outside fresh air and recirculated air from the HEPA filter, and having the vents open or closed will not affect the overall cabin air exchange rates.
While the safety and hygiene procedures developed by Boeing are already in place to protect passengers today, the company is also looking at how new technologies might be used to improve aircraft cleanliness in future.
UV light – the future of cleaning
One such technology is ultraviolet light disinfection – a non-toxic, environment friendly means of disinfection. UV light kills bacteria and viruses, without the need for chemicals, so it can be used safely in food preparation areas. Boeing is researching the use of handheld UV wands, that cabin crew can use for spot cleaning and disinfecting specific areas inflight, or that will allow ground cleaning crew to rapidly sterilise a cabin in addition to normal cleaning procedures
Another area where UV light is being considered for sterilisation is for onboard bathrooms. UV lights installed in the bathroom will switch on automatically after each bathroom visit, to instantly sterilise the lavatory before the next passenger. Boeing already tested a prototype of this self-disinfecting lavatory, which also includes hands-free taps, soap dispensers, rubbish disposal flaps, toilet lids and seats, in the autumn of last year.
Boeing is also conducting research into the use of anti-microbial and anti-viral coatings, which kill microbes or prevent them from spreading. By applying these coatings on surfaces and materials in the aircraft, especially on surfaces that receive a lot of contact like seats and bathroom fittings, Boeing hopes to introduce another layer of protection for passengers.
Across all these different areas of development, the Confident Travel Initiative aims to assure passengers that their safety is in good hands.
As president and CEO, Boeing, David Calhoun said: “As air travel slowly begins to increase and restrictions ease around the globe, the health and safety of flight crews and the flying public remains our top priority. This effort will help ensure flying is even safer in the future than it is today.”