Air travel and COVID-19: Boeing unveils UV 'wand' to disinfect plane cabins, cockpits

US aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing has revealed a new ultraviolet wand it says could help disinfect aircraft to protect passengers from viruses.

As the aviation industry grapples with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, airlines and manufacturers are scrambling to restore confidence among passengers concerned about the safety of air travel during COVID-19.

Boeing claims its prototype UV light can "clean to a high degree – to a disinfecting level – certain pathogens".

"The goal here is to achieve confidence," Boeing technical fellow Kevin Callahan told a media briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

"This light is a very powerful ultraviolet light. It allows the operator to treat a surface in a very quick manner."

The company will partner with a third-party supplier with the aim of having the wand available for commercial use by November.

Boeing worked with airlines Etihad and ANA to develop the concept but no Australian airlines were part of the consultation process.

Mr Callahan said the cockpit could be cleaned in 15 minutes using the wand, but he would not say how many wands would be required to clean the cabin area because it depended on the airline's turnaround time at the gate.

"It's really dependent on how many units you were using. It is not conceived you would use one wand to do the entire cabin. It is conceived it would be multiple wands to do that job," he said.


Engineering director Dan Freeman said the wand was part of the company's initiatives to provide passengers several layers of protection.

"In order for people to travel they need to be and feel safe. They need to have a predictable travel experience," he said.

Boeing says cabin air gets circulated and cleaned every two to three minutes. Air enters the cabin above each passenger and flows down vertically before evacuating the plane via ducts at passengers' feet.

The air entering the cabin is a mixture of fresh outside air and recycled air. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters clean the recycled air, with Boeing claiming 99.9 per cent of bacteria and viruses are removed.