A new study conducted for the Department of Defense adds credit to the growing belief that airline passengers are at minimal risk of contracting coronavirus when they fly.
The study found that the risk of aerosol dispersion – transmission of the virus in the air – was reduced by 99.7% thanks to high air change rates, HEPA filtered recirculation and down ventilation modern jets.
Investigators looked at the impact of an infected passenger on others seated in the same row and those nearby in the cabins of Boeing 767s and 777s. Both types of aircraft are jumbo jets typically used for long flights. mails where a virus should spread more easily.
To test the risk of exposure of passengers seated near an infected person, the researchers released fluorescent tracer aerosols representing droplets released by exhalation or coughing and examined the impact on several “breathing zones” throughout the plane. In total, more than 11,500 measurements of seats with breathing zones were taken with clearances of 46 different seats.
Asked about the report on Thursday on a call with analysts and media, United CEO Scott Kirby said the results apply to other commercial jets as well.
United lost $ 1.8 billion in the third quarter: Airline hopes industry recovery in 2022
“The reality is that these tests are revealing of what happens on every plane. An airplane is just a remarkably safe environment.”
The study was conducted by a team that included members of United Airlines, Boeing, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the National Institute for Strategic Research and research companies.It was prepared for two military agencies that move people and goods, the US Transportation Command and the Air Mobility Command of the Air Force.
The study is consistent with the message that airlines are trying to make people understand that HEPA filters and the high rate of airflow renewal in passenger cabins reduce passenger exposure. In fact, the study found that the contamination of the examined aircraft was lower than that found in private residences.
Kirby said that with the airflow from the ceiling to the floor, “there’s nowhere inside that it’s close to that” when it comes to limiting the spread. “which allows passengers to take advantage of aircraft ventilation systems while remaining at the boarding gate.
He urged passengers to make sure their air vents are fully open during their flights to maximize airflow.
On most airplanes, the air change rate is approximately every three minutes and 75% comes from outside the airplane, which means that only 25% of the cabin air is recirculated.
“The 767 and 777 both removed particulates 15 times faster than a home … and five to six times faster than recommended design specifications for modern hospital operating rooms or patient isolation. “, continues the study.
Tests were conducted by placing instruments capable of measuring particles near a simulated sick passenger. The study took masks into account, with an emphasis on the expectation that passengers would wear surgical masks, the type most likely to be handed over by airlines in cases where passengers do not bring theirs.
Airline bookings have fallen sharply after COVID-19 began infecting millions around the world, believing that spending hours locked in cabins near other passengers could easily spread it.
The carriers have tried to allay passenger concerns and protect the health of air crew members by requiring everyone to wear masks starting this spring. Additionally, several airlines, including Delta and Southwest, have blocked the middle seats for at least Thanksgiving.
But studies are divided. Two studies published earlier this fall raised the possibility that the virus could spread between passengers, looking at flights in which clusters of infections have been reported.
It should be noted that these studies looked at flights that took place at the start of the pandemic. It was also unclear whether the airlines had imposed some of the safety measures that were then adopted industry-wide, such as mask requirements.