With international borders now open, many of us are eager to head overseas. But travel is now very different from pre-COVID, for both travellers and airlines.
COVID-19 international travel. People in protective masks standing with luggages in a row at the airport.
Image credit: Envato.

COVID-19 has changed international travel preparation for both travellers and airlines. Depending on where you are travelling to, you might need to undertake a range of pre-travel checks. You will also need to wear a mask during your flight and social distance wherever possible.

Also, thorough cleaning of each aircraft following every flight is a requirement to minimise the spread of COVID-19. Doing this kills traces of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from any surfaces. But finding efficient ways to do this that don’t compromise on safety has been an ongoing challenge.

Manually cleaning aircraft

To date, much of this cleaning has been a manual task. Doing this sees personnel contracted to wipe down all areas of an aircraft after passengers disembark.

However, this can be quite an intensive, not to mention a costly process. Additionally, it’s inevitably almost impossible for cleaners to reach every single nook and cranny of an aircraft.

Aviation service providers knew there had to be a better way.

Fogging solution disinfects surfaces in seconds/minutes

In 2020, South Australian company Ecas4 saw an opportunity to repurpose an existing solution known as Ecas4-Anolyte. They previously used this solution to disinfect large food preparation areas. It works by fogging an enclosed space with the disinfectant solution, to eliminate traces of COVID-19 on aircraft in minutes/seconds.

The Group Executive Manager of ECAS4 is Daniel Romeo. Daniel said while they already knew Ecas4-Anolyte was effective as a disinfectant, they needed to test its wider application. For an aircraft, they needed to test whether the solution could also kill traces of COVID-19.

“With so many high touch areas on an aircraft that need to be cleaned thoroughly after each flight – toilets, tray tables, armrests and overhead lockers – we knew it could potentially be a game-changer for the aviation industry if it could kill COVID-19,” Daniel said.

Ecas4-Anolyte has benefits over other disinfectants. Mainly, the completely safe disinfectant solution requires no harsh chemicals in its production. How is this done? Through a process using the electrolysis of salt and water. Specialised machinery can then turn this into a fog.

“We knew our solution could disinfect large areas and is perfectly safe,” Daniel said.

“By fogging an enclosed space it sanitises any surface it comes into contact with really quickly, effectively reaching every single spot that might otherwise be difficult to sanitise manually.”

Cleaning aircraft quicker than ever before

Ecas4-Anolyte is produced using this specially designed machine (through a process that involves electrolysis of salt and water). Image credit: Ecas4.

Ecas4 Australia sought help from CSIRO through a special grants program called Innovation Connections. This initiative is part of the Australian Government’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme. It helps companies pursue research and development by connecting them with the right research expertise. This expertise comes from institutions across the country.

Our Innovation Connections facilitator David Monck connected the business with researchers at the University of South Australia.

“We knew Ecas4 already had a successful product on the market, but they needed help to test its effectiveness against COVID-19. This could expand its application to other sectors,” David said.

“Our goal through Innovation Connections is to help small to medium-sized enterprises turn their ideas into a reality through research and development. And this one fit the bill perfectly.

“The research undertaken was able to demonstrate that this solution could kill traces of COVID-19. The company was then able to use the data to get approval from the Therapeutic Goods Association.”

Results taking flight

Once the results of the test were ready, a major aviation service provider knocked on their door.

“There was interest in using this technology at Singapore Changi Airport (Singapore). as a major international transit hub, where many planes need to be cleaned on a daily basis,” Daniel said.

“The next step was to have it tested by the two major aircraft manufacturers, to make sure that it didn’t compromise any of the materials used on an aircraft.

“We received those approvals earlier this year. And we have received the okay from one of the major service providers to start trialling it at Singapore later this year.

“What this means is that aircraft will be able to be cleaned much quicker than ever before. And travellers can be reassured that every surface on an aircraft they board at Singapore will be free from COVID-19.

“Because of the success with this technology, we’ve also expanded our offerings by bottling the solution in a special aerosol can for personal use. Last year we started trialling a paid service at Singapore to sanitise hand luggage in the transit terminal.”

COVID-19 international travel. Airport terminal building with planes.
Image credit: Envato

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