Monday 6 February 2023

Coronavirus and flights: study reveals low transmission of COVID-19 on board aircraft

Three aircraft manufacturers affirm that contagion in the middle of the journey is difficult according to tests carried out

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QCOSTARICA – The International Air Transport Association (IATA), released an updated registry of infections of COVID-19 on board commercial flights, revealing a low incidence of transmission in a flight.

According to this report and the analysis of flight figures between January and the end of September, 44 cases of covid-19 related to air travel were reported. The figures include confirmed and potential patients.

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In the same period, IATA reports that some 1.2 billion people took commercial flights around the world.

Comparing both figures reveals an incidence of one contagion for every 27 million passengers.

According to David Powell, IATA medical advisor and in charge of the analysis, the risk appears “very low.”

Powell indicates that the data may be underestimated, but warns that even in a scenario with 90% of unreported infections, the figure would still remain quite low: one contagion for every 2.7 million travelers.

In both scenarios, the report adds, the figures are “extremely reassuring,” since most of the 44 reported cases occurred before the airlines imposed the use of a mask on board.

IATA also revealed that the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers (Airbus, Boeing and Embraer) sent that Association a joint publication of their own research results based on an analysis called Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD).

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CFD is the area of ​​knowledge related to the numerical simulation of flows, fluids, heat transfer and related phenomena, such as chemical reactions, combustion and aeroacoustics. In this case, it was applied to air circulation inside airplanes in flight.

The analysis of each manufacturer aims to explain the reason for the low contagion figures.

Although the methodology differs slightly between each company, the simulation of each one confirms that the ventilation systems of the airplanes control the movement of particles in the cabin and this limits the spread of any virus.

Investigating each one separately yielded two similar results:

  • Aircraft ventilation systems, high-efficiency filters (HEPA), the seat back as a natural barrier, top-down air circulation, and high air renewal rate reduce the risk of transmission of diseases on board, in a scenario without a pandemic.
  • The mandatory use of a mask adds an additional and significant level of protection, so that, despite the proximity factor between people in the cabin, the risk of contagion is lower compared to other interior spaces.
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The IATA report also cites the results of research conducted by infectious disease specialists David Freedman and Annelies Wilder-Smith, published earlier September 25 in the Journal of Travel Medicine.

“After conducting multiple simulations in which every detail has been taken into account and in which the most rigorous scientific methods have been applied, the data concludes that the cabin of an airplane offers a much safer environment than any public indoor space,” said Bruno Fargeon, Airbus engineer and head of Airbus’ Keep Trust in Air Travel initiative.

“The simulations measured the number of coughing particles that invaded the airspace of other passengers,” explained Dan Freeman, chief engineer for Boeing‘s Confident Travel initiative.

“Then we compared a similar scenario in environments such as a meeting room. Based on the particle count in the air, sitting one person next to another in an airplane is equivalent to being more than two meters apart inside a typical building.”

Luis Carlos Affonso, Senior Vice President of Engineering, Technology and Strategy at Embraer stated: “We wish to send a message that established technology and procedures allow us to fly safely, as our research shows.”



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