corona-safe aircraft cabin - covid19

Is there such a thing as a corona-safe aircraft cabin?

Martina Roters
12.01.2021
5 minutes

In pre-corona times, most passengers were surely primarily interested in one thing when it comes to the future of aircraft cabins: whether they would finally ever get the chance to have a comfortable nap in some weird and wonderful position. At the same time, aircraft designers tended to dream of transforming the giant metal birds into slimmer models both inside and outside. The result: designs that are surely worthy of aesthetic prizes.

Corona then reared its head – and created a few mundane tasks for people to think about:

Disinfection in the aeroplane: safety right from entering the cabin

Starting right from the beginning: passengers boarding an aeroplane firstly expect optimum cleanliness. It is unrealistic to expect that an aeroplane is absolutely germ-free, but it can be hygienically cleaned.

Thanks to corona, there are also a few innovative approaches to clean an aircraft cabin not involving the usual spraying of chemicals.

Approach 1: avoiding contact infections from the start

Eliminating potential infection sources is very much the order of the day. The cabin of the future will probably not be as cosy, and exhibit rather a ‘clean’ design. Many manufacturers are considering scrapping potential dirt traps, such as the seat back pocket containing the in-flight magazine and safety card. In this vein, Ryanair now offers only digital reading material, for example. The safety information? It is simply stuck to the back of the seat.

Boeing had made a name for itself with a special, anti-viral polymer coating. It claims that it is suitable for all materials such as glass, metal, plastic and even fabric, and is supposed to last for about a year.

The Diehl company announced that it is working on counteracting locks (e.g. for luggage compartments and doors). Others are satisfied with simpler solutions. The Japanese airline ANA says that you soon will be able to open their cabin toilet doors with your elbow.

On the whole, the watchword of the future is BYOD (bring your own device). The corona argument has presumably come at the right time for aircraft manufacturers, as they are able to do without elaborate entertainment systems. If you are then staring at a black screen on a full 14-hour flight to Singapore, you – as the owner of the smartphone or tablet – are then responsible for this yourself.
The SmartTray company is already developing patented holders for portable electronic devices.

Approach 2: blue light against corona & co.

Back in 2016, Boeing won a Crystal Cabin Award with its ‘Fresh Lavatory’ concept. This uses Far-UV light for disinfection. It is described as ‘far’, as the UV-C rays do not make it as far as us humans on the Earth’s surface. UV-C lamps used up until now, such as in hospitals to disinfect empty spaces, are hazardous to human health. However, there is a special light frequency here, damaging neither eyes nor skin, even if someone were to be in the toilet during the cleaning phase.

UV light is not only a germ killer in the on-board toilet. The aircraft cabin can also be relieved of corona and co. with a UV light device. Thanks to the ‘wings’ that fold out, the device is called the Germfalcon. Scientists explain that the virus shells literally ‘explode’ when they make contact with the light.

Concepts for social distancing due to corona

Corona - Covid19 - Pandemic

Approach 1: separation despite tight spaces

The broad majority of new concepts regarding corona deal with the impossible task: creating an artificial separation and thus repelling hazardous aerosol streams despite the small seat pitch.

Approach 2: separation using the blocked middle seat

‘Isolate Screen’ from Factorydesign is a seat blocking element with a small shelf and dark, transparent plastic panel, which can be easily secured to the middle seat using the seat belt. This has the advantage of the seat separator also being able to be belted to the aisle seat to enable a travelling couple to sit next to each other during the flight.

Approach 3: even more separation by cargo sections

The Haeco company offers two options to transform the aircraft cabin partially into cargo space to combat corona. Even without disassembling the constructions under the seats, the airlines can store standardised cargo boxes on the seats, under the seats or in the spaces in between. This leads to separate cargo zones being created, shielding passenger zones from one another. The fact that these cargo solutions can be used flexibly means that there is guaranteed load distribution in each aircraft cabin. This compensates the monetary loss to a certain extent if there are few passengers on board.

Corona-separation by curtain – entirely ‘woven’ by air

In former times, separating curtains were the preserve of suites; now, an innovative concept for each passenger seat wants to create an invisible, separating curtain by airflow. This is intended to prevent hazardous aerosols from spilling over into the area of the passenger in the next seat. The concept is called Air Shield and the brainchild of the Teague company. The air conditioning unit’s nozzles are modified to achieve these airflows and have the benefit of not involving additional weight. WingMag has already reported in a different article that the air conditioning unit can help in preventing infections.

Notwithstanding the fact that not all of these ideas are able to win people over in equal measure: there are costs involved in implementing such. Amid periods of colossal losses, the readiness for businesses to invest is understandably curbed. The 64,000-dollar question is thus: how much investment is needed to bring about passengers’ trust in cabin safety?

by Martina Roters

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