Heating can “effectively eliminate” the coronavirus on surfaces inside planes, especially on hard-to-clean equipment on the flight deck, according to a recent study carried out by Boeing aerospace company engineers and experts from the University of Arizona.
“Passenger and crew safety are our top priorities — that extends from the cabin to the flight deck,” Michael Delaney, who leads Boeing's Confident Travel Initiative (CTI) efforts, said in a statement. “Thermal disinfection could deliver another valuable tool to destroy COVID-19 on sensitive and difficult-to-reach components that protect pilots.”
Conducted in a protected laboratory environment at the Arizona University using flight deck components, the testing indicated that exposing interior plane surfaces to temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) for three hours is capable of killing 99.99% of COVID-19 on the flight deck, while 40-degree Celsius temperatures (104 degrees Fahrenheit) can destroy up to 99.9% of the virus.
“We're basically cooking the virus,” said Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and infectious disease expert at the University of Arizona. “Thermal disinfection is one of the oldest ways to kill disease-causing micro-organisms. It's used by microbiologists in our laboratory every day.”
The experts explained that sensitive electronic equipment in the cockpit can withstand temperatures of up to 70 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit); therefore applying heat to sanitize interior surfaces is safe and an improvement over the use of chemicals or other substances.
“We're showing that we can bring the flight deck up to temperature relatively evenly,” said Colin Hart, Boeing Commercial Airplanes engineer and Environmental Control Systems manager. “The research we're doing with the university shows, with actual flight deck panels that we can deposit the coronavirus, bring it up to temperature and effectively kill it.”