Boeing, University of Arizona use heat to sanitize plane of COVID-19

"One of the oldest ways to kill disease-causing micro-organisms," three hours exposure to temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius could wipe out 99.9% of the virus, and 50 degrees can wipe out 99.99%.

El Al Boeing 777 258 ER (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
El Al Boeing 777 258 ER
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Airplane manufacturer Boeing has teamed up with the University of Arizona to fight the coronavirus in its airplanes through the use of thermal disinfection.
Using heat as a means of disinfection is an old, tried and tested method, and is used in a variety of applications, from cooking to disease sterilization and mechanical dishwashers.
Most notably, the role heat can have in fighting the pandemic can be seen in the shape and function of many old radiators from the early 20th century, which were made specifically to help combat the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
And like many other diseases, COVID-19 is also susceptible to heat, with research showing that three hours exposure to temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius could wipe out 99.9% of the virus, and 50 degrees can wipe out 99.99%.
This was further proven by Boeing's testing, which was conducted in a protected laboratory at U of A during the fall.
"We're basically cooking the virus," University of Arizona microbiologist and infectious disease expert Dr. Charles Gerba said in a statement.
"Thermal disinfection is one of the oldest ways to kill disease-causing micro-organisms. It's used by microbiologists in our laboratory every day."
For Boeing, the efforts to create a sterilized airplane environment free of any traces of COVID-19 is essential, as the airline industry has been among the worst-hit sectors due to the pandemic's resulting financial crisis.
In addition, certain parts of airplanes are difficult to properly sanitize using traditional disinfectants. This is especially true with the flight deck, which has sensitive electronic equipment that could potentially be damaged by chemical disinfectants.
But flight decks are resistant to heat by design, being able to withstand up to 70 degrees Celsius. This not only makes thermal disinfection safe and practical, but the ideal form of airplane sanitation.
Other means of sanitizing airplanes from the coronavirus do exist. One such example is a form of laser-induced graphene technology developed by Houston-based Rice University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which takes advantage of graphene's properties to create an effective and affordable air filtration system.
Despite these measures, researchers have found airplanes to be relatively safe amid the pandemic, with people's chances of catching coronavirus being "nearly non-existent" if they wear a mask, United Airlines chief customer officer Toby Enqvist said in October, which is supported by a study released by the US Defense Department.
This is due to the fact that an estimated 99.99% of COVID-19 particles are filtered out of the airplane cabin within six minutes due to fast air circulation, downward air ventilation and the filtration systems on the aircraft.
But despite this, the measures being taken place by Boeing reflect a desire to eliminate as much risk as possible for its passengers and pilots.
"Passenger and crew safety is our top priority," explained Michael Delaney, head of Boeing's Confident Travel Initiative. "That extends from the cabin to the flight deck."

Reuters contributed to this report.