What does it cost to achieve a contaminate-free cabin environment?

COVID | Nov 10, 2020 | By Satair | 3 min read

More stringent in-cabin protocols are required to mitigate the community spread of COVID-19 and other airborne and surface pathogens. However, in a time where airline profit loss is already nearing the redline, what will it cost in both time and money to implement even further procedures?

You may have already felt the pressure of additional protocols in your job, as the industry slowly begins to recover from the devastating effects of a global pandemic. Fewer passengers per flight, further investment in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and longer durations between flights to account for additional cleaning procedures, just to name a few.

The pressures from ICAO, IATA, FAA, and other agencies with new recommended baseline safety protocols are nothing in comparison to the pressures of trying to re-establish public trust in air travel.

So what are the cost considerations for airlines to achieve a contaminate-free cabin environment?

Standard baseline protocols

We should start by addressing what the various aviation agencies are recommending. The US Department of Transportation and the FAA released their Runway to Recovery report taking what they call a “risk-based approach,” which means adjusting their social distancing and cleaning and disinfection procedures depending on specific regions and the level of contamination risk.

Addressing cabin air in the world of unseen elements

The ICAO’s Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) has devoted a considerable amount of its resources to provide an in-depth resource hub of guidance, recommendations and procedures, again mostly focusing on social distancing, providing PPE and even more stringent cleaning routines.

IATA has also released their Aircraft cleaning and disinfection during and post-pandemic report, which largely mirrors those from ICAO, the FAA, and the WHO—focusing on more strict cleaning protocols, social distancing, and PPE.

So it is safe to say that the industry, on the whole, is relatively aligned to what the new baseline standards should be for airline operations. But if these recommendations are the new “starting point,” what is the cost if airlines don’t strive for more future-proof solutions?

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The cost of maintaining the baseline

Social distancing on aircraft is arguably going to be one of the most cost-intensive procedures for airlines moving forward. In an interview in May of 2020, a representative from IATA reported that if proper social distancing is implemented on a flight, it would reduce the maximum load factor by around 62%. That is down 15% from the average “break-even” load factor of 77%.

If you combine that with increased-ground time due to more stringent cleaning and disinfection procedures, it is not hard to see that airlines are having to hedge their bets between recouping their losses between March and June 2020 and staving off the bleeding losses of operating under capacity.

With that said, it becomes clear that the long-term cost-saving opportunities are going to be in technologies that not only further mitigate risk with our current COVID-19 situation but also stave-off potential future threats.

Investing in new technologies

In contrast to the “glory years” of 2019 and prior, investing in technology is no longer a rat-race between those who can invent the most attention-grabbing technologies. Going forward, technological advancement is reactionary, and will primarily need to address the issue at hand.

Luckily there are a couple of notable companies that are doing precisely that.

Aviation Clean Air (ACA) has garnered a bit of attention in recent months due to their innovative and proprietary ionisation technology. Although the technology, which effectively neutralises pathogens both in-air and on surfaces, has been in development since 2012, it almost seems custom-tailored to our unique situation.

Ionisation purification technology: What does it cost?

Built to work in tandem with current HEPA recirculation systems, the ACA ionisation system can be implemented to any airframe and boasts an 87,530h hours ( approximately 10 years) MTBR (Mean Time Between Removals) with no expected maintenance cost during the lifetime of the product.

The Satair takeaway

With airline revenue nowhere near what it was in 2019, it is important moving forward that stakeholders consider the long-term investment. Yes, there are the immediate concerns to consider—the loss of months of revenue, the increased cost of operations, and the decrease in passenger travel, to name the most pressing.

However, some of those factors are immutable until a long-term cure for COVID-19 is widely available to the global populous. Where the long-term opportunity lies to implement new technologies into aircraft that can mitigate community spread, but also protect against any future bacteria, viral or pathogenic threats.

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