Is Ultraviolet Light The Key To Safe Aircraft Cabins During COVID-19?

There have been breakthroughs in the application of using ultraviolet light to kill microorganisms across aircraft interiors. With there being progress in this field, could this technology be integral to maintaining safe cabins amid the global health crisis?

Plane with sun at sunset
Could ultraviolet light be vital in coronavirus struggle? Photo: Getty Images

Crucial studies

Ultraviolet light can considerably reduce the number of viruses and bacteria on a surface when properly applied at the prescribed levels. However, there have been reviews to see whether this process can particularly kill SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

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Dr. Anthony Griffiths is an associate professor of microbiology at Boston University School of MedicineUV. According to ultraviolet light specialist Signify, he has been working alongside a team that is developing tools to support scientific advancement UV technology.

Cabin social distancing
There has been debate about the best way to maintain high standards of cleanliness and safety onboard. Photo: Getty Images

UV radiation can be classified into three types based on wavelength. These variants are UVA, UVB, and UVC. The latter has the shortest wavelength and the highest energy. Notably, it is this one that can be utilized as a disinfectant.

During Dr. Griffiths’ research, his department treated inoculated material with different doses of UVC radiation coming from a Signify light source. The researchers subsequently assessed the inactivation capacity under various conditions.

It applied a dose of 5mJ/cm, resulting in a reduction of the SARS-CoV-2 virus of 99% in six seconds. Altogether, according to the data, the conclusion is that a dose of 22mJ/cm will result in a reduction of 99.9999% in just 25 seconds.

According to Signify, Dr. Griffiths said the following:

“Our test results show that above a specific dose of UV-C radiation, viruses were completely inactivated: in a matter of seconds we could no longer detect any virus. We’re very excited about these findings and hope that this will accelerate the development of products that can help limit the spread of COVID-19.”

Ready for action

So, due to the progressive research carried out by professionals such as those at Boston University, companies are introducing UV devices that airlines can use on their services. For instance, Alaska Airlines COO Gary Beck said last month that his firm is looking at a UV light system that would kill any potentially lingering virus particles.

The Honeywell UV Cabin System can traverse an aircraft cabin in less than 10 minutes. It is the size of a drinks cart and has mechanical wings that expand to emit UVC light onto cabin surfaces. Meanwhile, a protective barrier blocks its operator from potentially harmful exposure. Therefore, it is being introduced to clean the surfaces of the interior of planes efficiently.

Honeywell’s system can smoothly pan across the interior of the plane and offer an effective clean. Photo: Getty Images

JetBlue is piloting eight of these devices. The carrier will initially be using them at its hubs of New York JFK and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Altogether, if these operators see success with these experiments, we will undoubtedly see these UV devices in use on more aircraft across the globe.

According to a press release seen by Simple Flying, Mike Madsen, Honeywell Aerospace president, and CEO, said the following about carriers using its UV devices:

“This offering is a big win for our airline customers, which are seeking affordable ways to clean their cabins effectively and quickly between flights. Honeywell is working on a range of solutions to help make passengers more comfortable about flying.”

Part of a bigger plan

UV light could turn out to be a game-changer when it comes to cabin sanitation. Nonetheless, it would still have to work as part of a broader airline hygiene strategy.

temperature screening
Airport screening is also an important factor in helping reduce risk across the passenger journey in the current conditions. Photo: Getty Images

Other necessary hygiene measures to help protect against COVID-19 while flying include:

  • The mandatory wearing of face masks while onboard;
  • HEPA grade air circulation systems – these remove up to 99.7% of airborne particles in the cabin;
  • Enhanced cabin sanitization – electrostatic spraying has been integrated into cleaning procedures on several services;
  • Reduced onboard contact – the minimizing of touchpoints by changing food processes and the temporary removal of inflight items;
  • Social distancing at the airport – this can be complemented by measures such as sneeze guards and touchless check-in processes.
JetBlue spraying
There will need to be consistency across the board for ultraviolet technology to be effective alongside other cleaning methods. Photo: JetBlue

Regardless, UV technology could massively improve efficiency across the board, even before and after boarding. Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) announced earlier this month that it is deploying autonomous floor scrubbers. These use UV tech to kill microbes in high-traffic areas. Along with floor surfaces, the airport is also looking to use the “robots” to clean handrails of escalators & moving walkways, and elevator buttons.

Carnegie Robotics
Chemical disinfectants can be added to the scrubbers to combine with the UV rays for a deeper clean. Photo: Blue Sky News / Pittsburgh International Airport

Critical moments

Altogether, the deployment of ultraviolet light to clean surfaces is not a new process. However, COVID-19 is a new virus strain that is still being studied.

Thankfully, there have been advancements that show that UV light can swiftly eradicate the virus. This success has given companies the confidence to implement technology that uses this light across their operations. The door has been opened for its usage in the aircraft cabin, and it won’t be a surprise to it becoming a mainstay in the cleaning process in the near future.

Honeywell Jetblue
If initial pilots are successful, these UV light devices could become a regular sight. Photo: JetBlue

All in all, when combined with other health and safety initiatives, UV light could be a pivotal addition to the fight against the virus. Even after the pandemic is over, the application of these systems will be keeping up positive practices. As always, each individual has to make sure that they also do their bit in these sensitive times.

What are your thoughts about ultraviolet technology? Do you think its deployment is a good move for airlines? Let us know what you think of the initiative in the comment section.