Invisible air shield for air travel

If there were a land-based enterprise requiring people to share armrests for hours in a densely packed, sealed metal tube, you can rest assured that currently it would not be open, and no-one would be going if it were.

It is easy, therefore, to understand the problems facing the aviation industry, which seems tailor-made to struggle in the era of COVID-19.

Airline chiefs have floated everything from pre-flight testing to only selling every other seat, while the world’s design studios have hurriedly experimented with new floor plans and physical barriers of all kinds.

Now Seattle-based firm Teague has come up with a rather different solution – an invisible ‘air shield’ – hoping to deal with the problem by controlling the airflow of the plane.

A simple device that fits onto the aircon units above each seat – and, crucially, does not require fundamental restructuring of the plane – the AirShield emits a continuous curtain of air around each passenger, which, at least in theory, restricts respiratory droplets to the person that produced them.

A cheap solution that could allow planes to fly at full capacity, Teague hopes to appeal to airlines already suffering crippling financial losses, and mass-produce the units using 3D printing.

“In an aircraft environment, it is airflow and not distance that plays the most significant role in the spread of a virus,” said co-inventor Anthony Harcup, “and by engineering the cabin airflow to manage each individual’s exhalations, passengers can have far greater peace of mind when seated nearby.

“For many airlines it is simply not commercially viable to reconfigure entire cabins to adhere to social distancing measures – especially in economy class where passenger density is at its highest.”

Coronavirus will surely ebb away eventually, but Teague has its eyes on the longer-term. “The world’s expectations for elevated hygiene post-pandemic will remain,” reads a company press release. “The enhanced interpersonal protection that AirShield is set to deliver will be a valuable tool for the industry in the quest for a cleaner, safer cabin.”

The AirShield received patent clearance earlier this month, so is now entering its main development phase.

Would you trust an invisible ‘air shield’? Or are you steering clear of air travel for the foreseeable future?

– With PA

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