Airflow limits spread of Covid-19 virus during flights, says new study

Aircraft manufacturers have done separate simulations to evaluate transmission of the Covid-19 virus during flights. (AP pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) data collection and the results of the separate simulations by aircraft manufacturers have confirmed that aircraft airflow systems control the movement of particles in the cabin, limiting the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

In a joint statement with Airbus, Boeing and Embraer, the association said the new insight into lower numbers of inflight transmission came in based on a separate computational fluid dynamics (CFD) research conducted by each manufacturer in their aircraft with slight differences in methodologies.

“Aircraft airflow systems, high-efficiency particulate air filters, the natural barrier of the seat-back, downward flow of air, and high rates of air exchange efficiently reduce the risk of disease transmission on board in normal times.

“Mask-wearing amid pandemic concerns adds a further and significant extra layer of protection, which makes being seated in close proximity in an aircraft cabin safer than most other indoor environments,” it said.

It said the data collection and results of the separate simulations were aligned with the low numbers reported in a recently published peer-reviewed study by Freedman and Wilder-Smith in the Journal of Travel Medicine.

“Although there is no way to establish an exact tally of possible flight-associated cases, IATA’s outreach to airlines and public health authorities, combined with a thorough review of available literature, has not yielded any indication that onboard transmission is in any way common or widespread,” it said.

Since the beginning of 2020, there have been 44 cases of Covid-19 reported in which transmission was thought to have been associated with a flight journey, inclusive of confirmed, probable and potential cases, with some 1.2 billion passengers travelled.

IATA also noted aircraft design characteristics add a further layer of protection, contributing to the low incidence of inflight transmission, including limited face-to-face interactions as passengers face forward and move about very little; the effect of seat-back acting as a physical barrier to air movement from one row to another; and minimisation of the forward-aft flow of air, with a segmented flow design which is directed generally downward from ceiling to floor.

Meanwhile, IATA director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac was quoted in the statement as saying that the detailed CFD research demonstrated that combining the aircraft’s existing design features with mask-wearing creates a low-risk environment for Covid-19 transmission.

“As always, airlines, manufacturers and every entity involved in aviation will be guided by science and global best practices to keep flying safe for passengers and crew,” he added.