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American Airlines Tests New Virus-Killing Coating on Plane Surfaces

Protectant is said to stop bacteria and viruses for 7 days

looking down the center aisle of a mostly empty airplane being boarded during the coronavirus pandemic

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En español | American Airlines is testing a newly approved antimicrobial protective coating that is able to make the coronavirus inactive on aircraft surfaces for up to seven days.

The odorless, transparent protectant, called SurfaceWise2, was developed by the Dallas-based Allied BioScience, which specializes in antimicrobial coatings for use in public spaces. The company says “the non-toxic coating is applied via an electrostatic spray to provide always-on protection on treated surfaces” and “continuously kill 99.9 percent of viruses.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved its use in Texas, where American Airlines is based, under an emergency public health exemption (Texas-based Total Orthopedic Sport & Spine also will be allowed to try the product). But Allied BioScience is seeking approval for SurfaceWise2 to be used throughout the U.S. and in a wide range of settings.

"There are very few environments where this wouldn't be useful; it makes sense anywhere there are people trying to get back to work or back to school or back to sports,” says Jess Hilton, Allied BioScience's chief marketing officer.

"Anytime a disease-causing virus or bacteria lands on it, it starts killing it,” says Charles Gerba, a microbiologist, professor of virology and one of the researchers at the University of Arizona who's been involved in testing the product for the past 10 years. They found that it reduced bacterial infections by 36 percent when used in hospital patient rooms and common areas, according to their study published in Clinical Infectious Disease in October 2019.

"At the beginning of the year, with the outbreak, they started working on their reformulation to make sure it was active against coronavirus,” Gerba says, “and they were successful.”

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American Airlines says that though for now it can apply the product only in Texas, it eventually will use it on all its planes: “We will be applying SurfaceWise2 to our entire fleet, including the aircraft of our American Eagle regional partners,” says airline spokesperson Leah Rubertino. She adds that the airline will continue the rigorous aircraft cleaning it began during the outbreak, including the disinfection performed before every flight “and even deeper overnight cleaning."

Other airlines are stepping up their cleaning protocols, too, touting super-efficient HEPA air filters and high-tech advances such as “a handheld ultraviolet light wand” that the United Arab Emirates’ Etihad Airways is testing for its effectiveness in disinfecting flight decks and cabins. Delta's Global Cleanliness team is working with “microbiologists and germ-kill experts from Lysol” to coordinate onboard disinfection. United Airlines is working with Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic to ensure cleanliness as part of the “United CleanPlus commitment."

And JetBlue is conducting deep cleans of aircraft each night, applying a hospital-grade disinfectant with electrostatic sprayers, “which allows it to fully coat and cling to surfaces,” according to its website. The airline is also testing a space-age-looking germ-busting contraption called the Honeywell UV Cabin System, which Honeywell describes as a beverage-cart-sized mechanism with extendable arms that can sweep the cabin with ultraviolet C (UV-C) light, killing “certain viruses and bacteria,” in less than 10 minutes.

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