Israel's IAI tests UV light solution to sterilize passenger aircraft

"The usual cleaning solutions require a lot of time, and involve chemicals, water and liquids. Passengers cannot board the airplane until it has dried out,"

A demo of IAI's UV-C sterilization technology on a cargo aircraft at the company's facilities  (photo credit: IAI)
A demo of IAI's UV-C sterilization technology on a cargo aircraft at the company's facilities
(photo credit: IAI)
An innovative robotic system to rapidly sterilize passenger aircrafts using powerful UV light technology is being tested by leading Israeli aerospace and defense firm Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
Widely used to purify water, Lod-headquartered IAI has adapted UV-C (short-wavelength ultraviolet) technology in recent weeks to successfully disinfect coronavirus facilities at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) and Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center.
Now, engineers at IAI's aviation division are adapting the technology for the efficient and autonomous sterilization of passenger aircraft between flights, boosting airline efforts to restart operations in a safe and clean manner.
The UV-C technology is based on electromagnetic radiation emitted with a wavelength of 254 nanometers – a frequency that kills all germs and viruses and is more effective than traditional chemical cleaning for cabin surfaces.
"Our system consists of a robotic system that operates autonomously inside the airplane," said Avi, the IAI aviation division project leader, whose surname cannot be disclosed for security reasons. "We can give the robot a plan of the airplane or any large space, and the system will operate automatically."
The system is being tested on an aircraft that is currently being modified by IAI engineers in the company's facilities, Avi said. The system has proved to be faster than traditional interior cabin cleaning and sterilizes everything in the proximity of the system, including aircraft seat upholstery and other fabrics.
"The usual cleaning solutions require a lot of time, and involve chemicals, water and liquids. Passengers cannot board the airplane until it has dried out," said Avi, adding that the system is "much more affordable" than existing cleaning methods. "When you use this system, you can immediately board passengers after completing the cleaning process."
Adapting the system for mobile use within aircraft has not been without its challenges. Deploying the technology requires regulatory approval from aviation authorities, the addition of a powerful in-built AC power system, and the ability to navigate between the aircraft's narrowest seats.
"The system can operate very quickly within an airplane, because the distance from the system to the wall and ceilings is much smaller than a hospital room," Avi said.
The introduction of effective cabin sterilization technologies will be key to launching wide-scale operations in the decimated aviation industry, and to restore public confidence in plane travel.
Data published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in mid-April showed that the COVID-19 outbreak will see global airline passenger revenues plunge by $314 billion in 2020, shaving 55% off 2019 revenues.
Israel’s flagship airline, El Al said last week that it was in "advanced negotiations" with an Israeli bank and the Finance Ministry as it seeks a $345 million government-secured loan, which will reportedly require layoffs of 1,600 of the airline's 6,500-strong staff.


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