Aircraft manufacturers and interior completions specialists have responded to the COVID-19 crisis by rethinking cabin designs and materials and developing various ways to combat pathogens.
To protect and reassure passengers, airlines have undertaken high-profile measures to help make cabins safer. Air filtration systems have been beefed up, and airline interior specialists are exploring ways to cocoon individual passenger seats with protective barriers. But a lot of the challenges facing air carriers do not necessarily apply to business jets, at least not to the same degree.
- Business jets’ pressurization and air filtration systems are already superior to those of airliners. Part of that is due to smaller cabin volume.
- Business jets also do not have nearly as many passengers to protect from each other, and these passengers are far more easily screened for symptoms.
- Once passengers are on board, they can more easily sit at a proper socially distance.
While not all of these advantages apply to business aircraft with smaller cabins, flights in those aircraft tend to be shorter, thus reducing the risk of infection.
To that point, Meghan Welch, interior design specialist for Elliott Aviation, agrees that while operators should certainly observe best practices when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting cabins and vetting the health of passengers, her company has not made major alterations to the interior designs of the airplanes that it typically deals with (from turboprops to mid-size jets).
However, Elliott Aviation does use antimicrobial materials in some of its upholstery, side panels and other often-touched surfaces. This technology involves incorporating virus-fighting elements into fabrics and other interior materials. A coating with a chemical compound that is toxic to microorganisms can be applied to surfaces to minimize the chance of a virus surviving very long. Such compounds also can be absorbed in a polymer material.
Carlos Flores, vice president of manufacturing sales at Nordam Group, which specializes in fabricating composite components used in aircraft interiors, said his company is exploring the potential of Ultraviolet-C lighting as a possible replacement for standard lighting over high-touch areas, such as tray tables, because of its disinfectant qualities.
Nate Klenke, modifications sales manager at Duncan Aviation in Lincoln, NE, said, “At Duncan, our first concern [when COVID-19 appeared] was to protect our employees, our customers and their aircraft from the virus. We put together a group from the interiors segment to look at products.”
Duncan Aviation also changed its procedures to include a comprehensive cleaning of every aircraft coming into its shop, using a fogging process and wiping down the cabin and the flight deck.
As far as cabin systems are concerned, Klenke said Duncan Aviation has been impressed with Aviation Clean Air’s bipolar ionization system. The unit floods the cabin and flight deck with positive and negative ions that attach to oxygen and hydrogen atoms that then “surround” particles of most known viruses and render them inert. The system has been STCed on numerous large-cabin business airplanes, and Duncan is looking at possible applications on smaller aircraft.
Meanwhile, the OEMs say they are protecting passengers and crews from viruses in several ways.
For example, Bombardier’s Global business jets have a 100% fresh-air system, in addition to an air purification and circulation system known as Pur Air. A HEPA filter captures up to 99.9% of allergens, bacteria and viruses and can completely replace cabin air in as little as 90 seconds, according to the company.
Also, Bombardier service centers offer Microshield 360, an EPA- and FDA-approved antimicrobial coating used for decades in the food industry to protect against viruses, bacteria, fungi and algae.