Boeing, University of Arizona, confirm disinfecting methods kill Covid-19 in airliners

22nd October 2020 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

A joint test programme by US aerospace giant Boeing and the University of Arizona has confirmed that the anti-Covid-19 cleaning methods used by airlines are effective and do kill the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes the disease. The unprecedented tests were carried out during the northern summer, using an unoccupied Boeing airliner, as part of the aerospace group’s Confident Travel Initiative (CTI).

The tests made use of live MS2 bacteriophage (‘bacteria-eating’) viruses, supplied by the University of Arizona. The MS2 virus is harmless to people and has been used in scientific and industrial studies for many years. It is also more difficult to kill than SARS-CoV-2. The university’s Department of Environmental Sciences analysed the test results and correlated them to SARS-CoV-2 in a secure laboratory.

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

During the test programme, MS2 was placed at high-touch locations throughout the cabin. These included arm rests, seat cushions, seat tray tables, stowage bins and in the galleys and lavatories. These areas were then disinfected using different products and technologies, such as chemical disinfectants, antimicrobial coatings and ultraviolet (UV) light.  

The chemical disinfectants were applied in two ways: manual wiping and by the use of an electrostatic sprayer (which produces a fine spray). Antimicrobial coatings are long-lasting and destroy viruses and other germs on surfaces. The UV light was directed on to the MS2 viruses by the UV wand developed by Boeing.

“This study allowed us to test and validate, for the first time, that disinfecting solutions kill SARS-CoV-2 on an airplane,” highlighted University of Arizona microbiologist Dr Charles Gerba. “It’s important to recognise we’re not only talking about SARS-CoV-2, but also other viruses and microorganisms.”

Although the various disinfecting products and methods tested produced different levels of effectiveness, they were all effective in killing the virus. Boeing and the University of Arizona are continuing tests, in a laboratory environment, into the effectiveness of cleaning methods against SARS-CoV-2 and similar organisms.