Airbus says risk of COVID-19 transmission in aircraft 'very low'

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 24 2020 02:32 PM | Updated as of Jun 24 2020 02:34 PM

Airbus says risk of COVID-19 transmission in aircraft 'very low' 1
A staff member of Japan Airlines wearing a protective face mask and gloves cleans the cabin of a plane which performed a domestic flight, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan May 26, 2020. Picture taken May 26, 2020. Kim Kyung-Hoon, Reuters

MANILA - Airbus said Wednesday the risk of COVID-19 transmission during flights is "very low," citing technologies that have long been used against viruses and bacteria.

Cabin air is renewed every 2 to 3 minutes by drawing in air from outside the aircraft, Airbus Asia Pacific president Anand Stanley told reporters in a video conference. 

Air also moves in a "forceful downward flow at a very high speed," further reducing the chance of contaminating the cabin with coronavirus, he said. 

"An aircraft cabin provides very low risk environment for transmission of virus...We at Airbus are confident that any risk of transmission while flying remains very low," Stanley said.

"What we have today is unparalleled in the transportation industry...Its' a very robust and safe environment," he said.

Airbus says risk of COVID-19 transmission in aircraft 'very low' 2
Optimized top to bottom airflow patterns in planes to avoid spreading of virus and bacteria. Illustration: Airbus

Every aircraft is also equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that are capable of removing over 99 percent of particles from cabin air including bacteria and viruses, he said.

Stanley said strains of coronavirus usually have large particles which HEPA filters are "more than adequate" to remove.

The same technology was proven to be effective during the outbreak of other respiratory viruses such as SARS and MERS-CoV, Airbus said. 

"We have found that that the cabin air safety the integrity of cabin air safety has been quite good historically during the timelines of these epidemics," Stanley said.

Airbus says risk of COVID-19 transmission in aircraft 'very low' 3
Cabin air is renewed every 2 to 3 minutes using HEPA filters that are capable of removing over 99 percent of particles. Illustration: Airbus

The World Health Organization said COVID-19 could be transmitted through small liquid droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. Physical distancing and wearing of masks are required as protection from the disease.

Philippine Airlines earlier said it would offer "physical distancing" rows in July, where the middle seat will be left empty for passengers who opt to seat away from other travelers.

Airbus believes that leaving the middle seats empty is "not technically relevant." The sudden downward flow of air is enough to contain droplets, Stanley said. 

"The movement of air is completely avoided, when you combine that with all the other measures, from a purely technical standpoint leaving the middle seat empty is not technically relevant," he said.

Enhancing passenger trust is key to drive demand, Stanley said. Industry players including airports, governments, manufacturers and airlines are working together to address consumer worries, he said.

"I'm very optimistic that with enhanced measure and industry effort the vibrancy and demand in Philippines will return as a result of bringing back confidence," he said.

"We will see a return in confidence in passenger traffic by reemphasizing again and again that this is the safest mode of travel," he said.

Select domestic and international flights have resumed in the Philippines after an 11-week lockdown on Metro Manila was eased at the start of the month.