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New Boeing study proves effectiveness of cleaning tools and methods to stave off COVID-19 on aircraft

The airplane manufacturer says it will continue to validate the effectiveness of various disinfectants

Photo (c) guvendemir - Getty Images
A new joint study from aircraft manufacturer Boeing and the University of Arizona shows that cleaning tools and techniques effectively destroy the virus that causes COVID-19.

The significance of that silver lining could go a long way in giving travelers the confidence to take back to the skies and set some of their clouded fears about the health safety of an airplane aside.

As part of its Confident Travel Initiative (CTI) -- an effort to support customers and enhance the safety and well-being of passengers and crews during the COVID-19 pandemic -- the tests were performed on a real but unoccupied Boeing airplane against a live virus called MS2. The University of Arizona’s Department of Environmental Sciences then compared those results to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 

With a forecasted spike in coronavirus cases and cold weather -- an environment COVID spreads easily in -- upon many of us, the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is getting renewed interest.

Why MS2 and not the actual COVID virus?

Using MS2 instead of an actual COVID-19 virus might be a head-scratcher to the non-scientists among us, but according to the scientists involved in the study, MS2 served two purposes.

First, it is safe and harmless to humans. Secondly, it’s more difficult to kill than SARS-CoV-2. Scientific and industry studies have used the MS2 virus for years, but until now, never in an airplane cabin. 

“While these cleaning solutions had been tested in other environments, an airplane behaves differently. It was critical for us to evaluate and confirm the chemicals and techniques we recommend for our customers’ use are effective and battle-tested,” said Mike Delaney, who leads Boeing's CTI efforts. “By working with the University of Arizona, we were able to employ their world-renowned expertise in virology to do exactly that.”

Everything from overhead bins to arm rests tested

The MS2 virus was strategically placed on high-touch points throughout the aircraft’s cabin in areas that fliers are most likely to come in contact with -- seat tray tables, arm rests, seat cushions, the bathroom, overhead bins, and the galley. 

Technicians then disinfected each area with various products and technologies in two separate ways -- manual wiping and also with an electrostatic sprayer like United Airlines employs.

The tests also measured how well Boeing’s own ultraviolet wand and antimicrobial coatings worked. Antimicrobials are long-lasting coatings that destroy germs and viruses on surfaces and American Airlines was given the OK to use that method by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this year.

The final analysis

After Boeing did its part, the University of Arizona then performed a post-infection analysis on each high-touch area to determine effectiveness. The final results were a mix of various levels of effectiveness, but Boeing claims that “ultimately all the recommended products, methods and technologies successfully destroyed the MS2 virus.”

Boeing said while the first test showed impressive results, it’s not going to stop there. In a statement, the company said it will continue to work with the University of Arizona to test recommended cleaning methods against SARS-CoV-2 and other similar viruses so they could further validate their effectiveness.

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