TUCSON, Ariz. — The University of Arizona and Boeing joined forces to find disinfectants that will kill COVID-19 and help make air travel safer. The project known as the Confident Travel Initiative is designed to test out cleaning solutions that can destroy the Coronavirus. UArizona microbiology professor Dr. Charles Gerba, who is known as "Dr. Germ," says he’s been working with Boeing since the summer to test cleaning products as part of the initiative to make flying as safe as possible during the pandemic and beyond.
“It's really innovative to try to get a coating that will be antiviral," he said. "I think it’s the next step in hygiene and disinfection adding another barrier between when they clean and regularly disinfect aircraft. We’re looking at coatings. And anytime the virus lands on it would kill it, so you don’t have to keep disinfecting all the time."
The team conducted laboratory testing by using a virus called MS2 on surfaces inside of an unoccupied plane. The virus has similar characteristics to the virus that causes COVID-19.
“It would protect you from when they disinfect it or clean the aircraft. In case the virus lands again on a surface in the aircraft. We’ve been evaluating the overhead bins, the seats, the trays, the handles,” Gerba said.
Cleaning solutions and ultraviolet wands were also used throughout the plane and according to Boeing, the results show that antimicrobial coatings were effective for extended periods of time and won’t be harmful to passengers. While Gerba didn’t share the names of the disinfectants, he did say the products can potentially be used on public transportation and other high traffic areas.
“We actually did some of the work in the aircraft going in and contaminating certain areas like the tray in the aircraft the overhead bin and then evaluating the disinfectants to show they could kill the virus. I see this new technology of self-disinfecting surfaces will revolutionize public places in cleanliness, cars and buses you name it. These are products already on the market and they are new innovative products where you can put down a coating and it will last for hours, weeks or maybe even months,” Gerba said.
The research project is expected to be done with other viruses by the end of the year and airplane cleanings will be done between flights.
“It all has a big benefit I think it's going to add that extra barrier to me it’s the next generation of infection control and the spread of disease,” Gerba said.