Gatwick Airport is the first airport in the UK to implement UV technology in the fight against COVID-19. After a successful trial period during July, the airport is now rolling out a ‘tunnel UV’ system, which will come into service by the end of September.
As a high-touch and multi-use apparatus, security trays are a potential hotspot of transmission if not adequately disinfected. It is hoped the new measures will significantly cut the risk of infection when passing through airport security.
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How does the UV tunnel work?
The UV tunnel system disinfects trays through the use of shortwave UV light, which kills 99.9% of microbes. Manufactured by Smiths Detection, UV light tunnels have been demonstrated in recent tests to neutralize COVID-19 in 30 seconds. UV light destroys the cellular structure of microorganisms and prevents cell replication.
The tunnel system is fitted beneath the hand luggage scanner belt, and automatically disinfects all used trays. The new system is said to be more effective than existing disinfection methods, like anti-viral coatings, which diminish in effectiveness over time. Each used tray is returned thoroughly disinfected and ready for a new passenger to use.
How safe are UV tunnels?
Gatwick Airport’s CEO, Adrian Witherow, has calmed any fears of harmful exposure to UV rays, commenting in a statement,
“This new system has proven itself to be extremely reliable and provides a really high degree of reassurance as every single passenger and staff member using the system will have a tray that has only just been disinfected.”
According to Smiths Detection, ‘the kits are safely shielded from any leakage using robust metal housing and following relevant safety standards’. Furthermore, ‘interlocks automatically shut off the UV-C lamps in the event of an emergency stop, tray blockages on the conveyor or opening the module.’
How will they impact traveling?
The trial period has demonstrated that the technology does not slow down security lanes. Passengers and their belongings will proceed through security scans as normal, while the UV tunnel system automatically disinfects trays after use. Unlike other screening measures, which can cause congestion, UV tunnels will integrate seamlessly into existing security measures.
Complemented by other safety measures, the new UV tunnels have the potential to make airports a safe and sterilized zone. Without sufficient measures, airports can become ‘super-spreaders’ due to close contact between passengers and frequent sharing of facilities.
Flying safely during a global pandemic
UV tunnels are the latest addition to Gatwick Airport’s health measures, which also include deep-cleaning procedures, social distancing, 200 sanitizer stations, and 500 perspex screens. The new measures hope to instill greater confidence in fliers and bring the aviation industry back to its feet.
While the industry’s future appeared grim in the early days of the pandemic, technological innovation promises to make flying a safe and comfortable venture. United Airlines has recently implemented UV-technology to disinfect its cockpits, while Boeing is trialing a handheld UV device to clean its cabins.
Do UV tunnels make you feel safer flying in the current climate? What else would you like airports to implement?