Four Tips for Protecting Your Aircraft From Germs and Bacteria

PT 4 M minute read
Four Tips for Protecting Your Aircraft From Germs and Bacteria

This is a post by guest author Stephen Clark, marketing manager of Immaculate Flight, LLC. Stephen was asked to contribute to this blog because of his expertise in aircraft cleaning. Any thoughts expressed below are entirely Stephen’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc.

If you’ve been keeping up with the news lately, you’ve probably heard about the Ebola crisis affecting West Africa. Not unlike past outbreaks of other diseases (e.g., SARS, Bird Flu), this crisis has highlighted aviation since the industry is considered the most common transportation mode an infected person would use during an outbreak. While the current Ebola outbreak has been limited to a few cases outside of West Africa, that fact doesn’t replace the need for aircraft operators to be prepared to better protect aircraft, passengers, and crew members from harmful germs and bacteria onboard their aircraft.

As such, this is a perfect time to revisit a few tips on how you can better protect your aircraft from not just Ebola, but also many cold, flu, and other viruses which you are likely to encounter.

The following is an overview of what you need to know:

1. Common sense is not so common

Before we dig in too deep here, I feel it’s necessary that we inject some common sense into the conversation going on right now regarding germs onboard aircraft. The simple fact is that no matter what you’re about to read – nor what you read in the future – nothing will protect you from everything. It should be highlighted that your first line of defense against bacteria and viruses should be proven personal hygiene routines.

That means you and the people around you should wash your hands properly and use appropriate food-handling techniques every day. Those in the aviation industry can further reduce the likelihood of harmful germs on aircraft by wiping down common surfaces in aircraft and scheduling heavy interior detailing and disinfection on a regular basis.

2. Have the right tools to do the job

After the basics, the best thing you can do to protect your aircraft, crew members, and passengers is to ensure that the cabin is stocked with the right tools to safely remove germs and bacteria.

In my travels visiting flight departments around the U.S., I’ve seen a variety of different chemicals – piled into cabinets – that range from powerful commercial grade disinfectants and aerosols to the more mainstream supplies. While each may have its merit in your operation, the best advice I can give you is to keep your stock as simple as possible while in the air and leave the rest at home. To paint a better picture, here are three "can’t miss" items for your aircraft:

Travel-sized alcohol-based hand sanitizers

These can be bought at most stores and can be extremely effective if offered as a part of a welcoming kit on your aircraft. Members of one major flight department told me that their crew members hand one of these mini bottles to each passenger with their pre-departure drink, while another said they build a pyramid of bottles on the divan to draw attention to them. You can offer hand sanitizer however you’d like, but remember: the earlier you make it available, the better. One caveat: be sure to purchase sanitizers that have an alcohol content of at least 60%. While some sanitizers (often labeled "natural") are available without alcohol, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that these "natural" products are not proven to work against common germs and bacteria and has recommended alcohol-based sanitizers even if such products dry your hands.

Eco-friendly disinfecting wipes

Unlike their bleach-based cousins that can damage an aircraft’s many surfaces, eco-friendly disinfecting wipes can be found at most premium outlets and are perfect for disinfecting food prep surfaces, as well as small areas, quickly without leaving behind the heavy odor that bleach-based wipes have. Just be sure never to use them on porous surfaces.

All-purpose disinfectant

While wipes are the perfect solution for a quick cleanup, it’s always a great idea to keep on hand a larger spray bottle with an aviation-approved disinfectant for larger areas and general clean up. And while there are many brands available, it’s best to find one that is approved by your original equipment manufacturer to ensure it won’t damage your aircraft’s surfaces. If you’re not sure if the product you have on hand is approved or not, just ask!

3. Look into full cabin disinfecting and protection

Ebola is most likely just one among many viral threats aviation will face in the future. And while common sense and a closet full of chemicals can help in the battle against such threats, ultimately there are surfaces on your aircraft that are difficult to reach or are cleaned less frequently than others.

Take for example recent research that indicates that Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) and E. coli were found to live for up to 168 hours and 96 hours, respectively, on surfaces such as leather seats, toilet areas, armrests, and even entertainment buttons and window shades. While you may clean common areas regularly, leather seats and armrests are sometimes forgotten in favor of hard surfaces.

One of the most promising technologies we now have is spray anti-microbial treatments which inhibit the growth of germs and bacteria on any surface of your aircraft’s cabin. And while they don’t replace common sense or the need to properly clean your aircraft regularly, anti-microbial treatments can provide a layer of protection where wipes and general cleaners can fall short.

4. Have a plan for the worst

Perhaps one of the most important things to take away from this article is that no matter what you do, it’s still possible that at some point you and your aircraft may run across something nasty like a norovirus or the flu. No matter the case, it’s best to have a plan in place with professional resources outlined beforehand so you can lean on them if the need ever arises.

It’s worth noting that while many common colds, flu, and viruses can be handled by most professional aircraft cleaning companies (or even your in-house teams, if you have them), infectious diseases such as MRSA or Ebola should always be handled by specialized teams trained in disinfecting extremely hazardous items. In this case you can look towards your airport’s fire department for a reference or even reach out directly to the CDC for advice. For your records, the CDC’s main phone number is (800) 232-4636.

Final thoughts

Now you have four tips you can take right away to protect what matters most: your people and your investment. And while no solution will ever completely eradicate germs and bacteria from your aircraft, these tips, as well as some common sense in your operation, should be enough to help quell much of the fear currently spreading in regards to germs in aviation.


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