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Boeing and Airbus to study how Covid-19 moves onboard and if UV light, self-cleaning material can stop spread

The two giants are teaming up with academics, engineers and medical experts to better understand potential risks
United Airlines Boeing 737 and Interjet Airbus A320 (Getty Images)
United Airlines Boeing 737 and Interjet Airbus A320 (Getty Images)

The coronavirus pandemic has hit air travel hard. In the backdrop of countries lifting restrictions and resuming travel, two airline manufacturers Boeing and Airbus are hoping to bring the industry back to its former glory, but not before addressing one concern: how does the virus move onboard?

To answer that question, the two players are teaming up with academics, engineers and medical experts. "We're taking steps to better understand any potential risks," a spokesman told the Wall Street Journal.

Additionally, Boeing and Airbus are looking at means such as UV light and self-cleaning materials to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Their findings could help airlines, health officials, and regulators make decisions on how to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. It has brought the world to a halt, with 5.6 million infections and over 355K deaths recorded across the globe.

The airline industry has suffered major losses since the pandemic took off. According to the Airports Council International, the industry has lost 4.6 billion passengers and nearly $100 billion for this year alone. Airline industries are closing. For instance, the Florida-based charter airline Miami Air has filed for bankruptcy and shut operations on May 8.

Airlines have been trying to convince potential fliers that masks and filtered cabin air provide reliable protection from infection in flight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates on board. But there are risks such as difficulty maintaining social distancing on crowded flights.

Additionally, air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, both of which heighten the chances of exposure to the virus either through people or contaminated surfaces. The federal health agency said it discussed recommendations concerning Covid-19 and safe travel with the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing and Airbus.

The airline industry has suffered major losses since the pandemic took off (Getty Images)

Experts think there is still a lot of learning to do. "There are a lot of unknowns right now," John Scott Meschke, a microbiologist who teaches at the University of Washington's school of public health, told the Wall Street Journal. Charles Haas, a professor of environmental engineering at Drexel University said, "We do not understand if 6 feet distance recommended by the CDC is good enough to limit the spread through droplets from an infected person onboard."

Boeing is researching if UV light and antimicrobial coatings for frequently touched surfaces can keep the new coronavirus from spreading. The Wall Street Journal reported that the manufacturer is interested in a study from the University of Colorado, Boulder. According to Karl Linden, an environmental engineering professor at the university, the project aims to determine the dosage of UV light needed to disinfect airplanes between flights. "They want to move really quickly," he added.

Airbus, on the other hand, is talking to researchers from the US and beyond. Among the strategies, they are looking at including self-cleaning materials, a disinfectant that can last for five days and touchless devices in lavatories.

For now, US airlines have taken steps such as asking fliers to mask up and reducing the number of passengers. "If everyone's wearing a mask, then there is very little that is getting out into the air," Linsey Marr, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech, whom Airbus recently contacted for information on the subject, told The Wall Street Journal.