Use of Bipolar Ionization for Disinfection within Airplanes

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The 2020 worldwide spread of SARS-CoV-2 resulted in government issued travel restrictions and significant reductions in domestic and international passenger air travel. Global health multilateral organizations promptly began researching the novel virus to develop and determine methodologies to mitigate its spread and effect on humans.

Frequent disinfection of aircraft can be costly, time consuming, and can cause damage to materials and systems over time if not properly performed. The primary mode of transmission for SARS-CoV-2 is through respiratory droplets and it has been detected on surfaces for several hours1,2 to multiple days after exposure.

Boeing formed the Confident Travel Initiative (CTI) to help minimize air travel risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. CTI is working across the industry to implement a coordinated approach with airline customers, airports, regulators, other industry stakeholders, infectious disease experts, and scientists. This represents an unprecedented international cooperation to address a global challenge.

Bipolar ionization was evaluated in various environments for antimicrobial effectiveness and safety, while keeping within the “turn” time parameter that an airplane may see on the ground in between revenue flights. Ions are commonly produced in nature and can occur at elevated levels near waterfalls, lightning strikes, and at higher elevations.

A multi-phased approach to evaluate the technology was developed to ensure a thorough assessment. This paper will delineate the methods used and findings of bipolar ionization.

  • Antimicrobial effectiveness
  • Byproduct production
  • Safety for people
  • Preliminary ground delivery process

Based on Boeing’s technical assessment, further study/development of air ionization by the industry is required before the technology can be incorporated for effective disinfection of airplanes in response to global pandemics caused by respiratory viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. The potential for utilization of air ionization for effective disinfection of microorganisms on surfaces and in air with no byproducts has been investigated by several external laboratories at higher flow velocities than an airplane cabin environment. Boeing’s assessment of air ionization for airplanes determined that standardized test methods for antimicrobial effectiveness are required, provided mixed test results, and found very little external peer reviewed research in comparison to other traditional disinfection technologies.