You might have seen in the news, that airlines are increasingly turning to UV (and in particular UVC) to sanitise their fleets. Only in the past few weeks JetBlue adopted a new trolley-based light sanitisation station that’s wheeled through the cabin to disinfect the cabin in approximately 10 minutes.
Why UV light? While UVA and UVB are bearable by humans (especially with a good sunblock) UVC, a more intense lightwave which is incredibly harmful to humans is usually blocked out by the earths natural ozone layer.
However UVC isn’t just dangerous to humans, it is also dangerous to all living matter, including viruses, microbes and bacteria. Its this reason that UVC is used to sterilise laboratories and medical facilities, but only when the space is empty of any humans. It’s this reason that the Honeywell sanitisation trolley offers protective screens to the user and why hand UVC sanitisers have to offer amble shielding and directional light to ensure the user doesn’t suffer from adverse and deadly effects.
While designers are courting the idea of UV embedded technology in to seats, lavatories or cabin designs, in reality the sanitising wavelength frequencies could only be activated on an empty aircraft. UV lights that we can see for ourselves sadly don’t have a high-enough wavelength to actively destroy pathogens – otherwise, we’d be quickly and literally frying ourselves in the process.
But safety issues aside, no matter how the light is used in a cabin, the use of the trolleys are expensive, time-consuming and require human control to apply the treatment. The latest concepts by PriestmanGoode embeds UV light into the seats, but these could only be turned on during a turnaround with an empty aircraft, and would also require the fit out of an entire new seat product across the fleet.
Surely there’s a simpler way?
Dubbed by TheDesignAir, ‘HyLite’ is a lighting concept that would utilise the existing LED strip lighting kitted out on most modern aircraft (just like the Airspace Cabin by Airbus). By including UVC LED bulbs in the lighting strips, which could be safeguarded by either an engineering mode or ground service circuit, the existing wall, ceiling and even floor lighting strips could offer a virtual 360 degree flood of UVC light that could disinfect a cabin in less than a few minutes.
LED light strips are relatively affordable part of a cabin fit out, utilising existing cabin architecture and wiring systems and as long as deemed safeguarded so they couldn’t inadvertently be turned on by cabin or flight deck crew during operation would be a fairly straightforward retrofit for many aircraft flying today.
Embedding a technology on to an aircraft increases reliability, reduces the need for 3rd parties, especially in out stations and will create a sense of reassurance for passengers. Also by adding the technology to toilets, crew could – in theory – regularly sanitise these high-touch, frequent visit areas of a flight, even during a long haul flight, once again, perhaps safeguarded by motion or heat sensors that wouldn’t activate if there was a foreign body inside.
UV light is certainly becoming more and more interesting to carriers, but sometimes that doesn’t mean there’s a need for expensive, highly elaborate products, but instead looking at the skeleton of the problem and seeing how simple, effective low-cost solutions can be applied. After all, cost-efficient design right now is of the highest importance to carriers.