The cleaning technologies and disinfecting solutions currently being used by commercial airlines are effective against COVID-19 as well as other viruses and microorganisms, according to new research from Boeing and the University of Arizona.
Boeing completed the testing as part of its Confident Travel Initiative to reassure travelers that effective steps are being taken to safeguard public health. Recent surveys show travelers are ready to resume domestic and international trips, provided first and foremost they can be certain that cleaning and safety measures in place throughout their journey are effective.
Testing was conducted over the summer on an unoccupied Boeing airplane against a live virus called MS2. The bacteriophage virus MS2 is safe and harmless to humans and more difficult to kill than SARS-CoV-2, according to researchers. Scientific and industry studies have used the MS2 virus for many years, but never before in an airplane cabin.
The University of Arizona provided the MS2 virus its Department of Environmental Sciences correlated those results to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in a protected laboratory environment.
The study placed MS2 at strategic high touch points throughout the cabin, including on seat tray tables, arm rests, seat cushions, overhead bins and inside the lavatory and galley. Technicians then used various products and technologies to disinfect the area.
Chemical disinfectants were applied through two means: manual wiping and with an electrostatic sprayer, which applies a fine spray of liquid disinfectant, a technology that a number of airlines are employing. The tests also measured how well Boeing’s ultraviolet wand and antimicrobial coatings worked.
Once each area with the virus was cleaned with a disinfecting product or method, it was “swabbed” to be tested for any remaining virus.
The University of Arizona researchers then analyzed each area post-disinfection. The results showed various levels of effectiveness, but ultimately all the recommended products, methods and technologies successfully destroyed the MS2 virus.
“This study allowed us to test and validate, for the first time, that disinfecting solutions kill SARS-CoV-2 on an airplane,” said University of Arizona microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba. “It’s important to recognize we’re not only talking about SARS-CoV-2, but also other viruses and microorganisms.”
Boeing’s Confident Travel Initiative is intended to enhance the safety and well-being of both passengers and crews during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While these cleaning solutions had been tested in other environments, an airplane behaves differently,” said Mike Delaney, who leads Boeing’s CTI efforts. “It was critical for us to evaluate and confirm the chemicals and techniques we recommend for our customers’ use are effective and battle-tested.”
Boeing and the University of Arizona say they are continuing to test recommended cleaning methods in a lab against SARS-CoV-2 and other similar viruses to further validate their efficacy.