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Ozone testing at Pima Air & Space could revolutionize how airlines clean planes

Pima Air & Space 737 used as lab for ozone test as sterilizing method
Posted at 4:27 PM, Aug 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-12 20:36:49-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — The airline industry has been hit extremely hard by the pandemic.

Now, an Arizona company, and the University of Arizona and Pima Air & Space Museum have teamed up to develop cutting edge technology to help airlines rebound.

As airlines try to entice people to fly again, they are promoting a safe, clean experience for travelers.

That includes deep cleaning every aircraft at the end of each day. That requires large crews to clean each plane for an hour or more, every night.

"We figured there must be a better way to do this," said Energy Quest Technologies President Dewey Benson. "So we started doing some research and kind of came across ozone."

That is how Energy Quest Technologies got its idea for a better way to deep clean an aircraft. The Chandler-based company of seven employees has been building portable air conditioners for the Air Force.

They knew that pumping ozone into an empty plane, using one of its air conditioners, might be the answer.

That is where a decommissioned 737-300 on display at Pima Air & Space Museum comes in. It recently became a research lab.

Energy Quest Technologies teamed up with the University of Arizona College of Public Health to experiment on the 737 at Pima Air & Space Museum. The goal was to find a way to better sanitize a plane.

"Especially an aircraft which is airtight to start with, it makes it a lot easier to contain the ozone, and to run it at levels where you can have pretty effective results in a short amount of time," explained Benson.

During the ozone test of the 737, microbiologists from the University of Arizona put samples of a virus throughout the plane. The results were impressive.

Ozone test on virus inside 737 at Pima Air & Space Museum

"We can get hospital-grade sterilization in about 90 minutes," Benson said. "We're talking about 99.9999 percent reduction in virus."

Benson added that they have refined the procedure through more testing at Pima Air & Space, with the 737 and the 777 wide-body airliner.

The deep cleaning ability is far better than a 10 person crew trying to wipe down the aircraft by hand.

"You can leave the tray tables up. We've put samples inside the seat pockets and we're still getting 99.9 percent reduction in the virus," Benson said. "Even in places where these other approaches won't work at all."

Benson said there is a significant cost savings for airlines using the Energy Quest ozone system.

He said several airlines and the Air Force are interested. They hope to ramp up production in a few months.