Airline update: How safe is the air in aeroplanes?

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Are you nervous about the thoughts of recirculating air spreading coronavirus on your next flight?

A new study from the US Department of Defense suggests that the ventilation systems on commercial aircraft efficiently remove the particles that could transmit the virus.

The US Transportation Command released the results from its aerosol dispersion test, which showed that the overall exposure risk from pathogens such as the coronavirus was low.

The test used Boeing 777-200 and 767-300 aircraft and simulated a fully loaded passenger flight, while a dummy wearing a surgical mask coughed aerosols to replicate a passenger with a respiratory virus.

More than 300 aerosol releases were performed over eight days and involved in-flight, simulated in-flight and on-the-ground testing, explained Dee Mewbourne from the US Transport Command.

“Within the scope of the test, the results showed an overall low exposure risk from aerosolised pathogens like COVID-19 on these aircraft.” 

Mannequins with and without face masks sat in various seats on the aircraft while fluorescent tracer particles were released at intervals of two seconds to simulate breathing for a minute during ground and in-flight tests.

Real-time fluorescent particle sensors were placed throughout the aircraft at the breathing zone of passengers to measure concentration over time. 

The test revealed that the released aerosol was rapidly diluted by the high air exchange rates observed in the air frames. 

The particles only remained detectable within the cabin for an average of less than six minutes. To put that in perspective, it would usually take 90 minutes to clear these particles from the air inside the average home.

According to the findings, the high air exchange coupled with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration of all recirculated air, means a commercial aircraft’s air supply system provides protection greater than the design standards for a patient isolation room or a hospital operating room.

Do these results make you feel more comfortable about air travel?

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Written by Ben


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