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Returning to service: how cabins are being prepared for a return to the skies

As vaccinations ramp up across the globe, consumers are turning to one of the most anticipated returns to normality – travel. Features editor Melissa Moody discovers how suppliers and airlines are planning for the post-pandemic environment.

This piece first appeared in the May/June issue of Aircraft Cabin Management, you can read the full magazine  

Over a year on from the outbreak of Covid-19, it is becoming obvious that passengers are itching to return to the skies. News about ‘green lists‘ for travel are highly anticipated and are expected to create significant demand for holidays in the summer months. But with the anticipated return to travel comes the need for the aviation sector to adapt to the change in the landscape and prepare for the months ahead. 

According to a survey conducted by aircraft component manufacturer Honeywell Aerospace, despite a global slowdown in travel throughout 2020, 34 per cent of respondents say they had taken a flight during the pandemic. Of the two thirds who said they had not flown by plane, 81 per cent felt that they would be ready to take a flight within the next 12 months. 

The question on everyone’s lips is how best to go about this. 

Innovate and create

Over the past year, the pandemic has affected every aspect of aviation, from seat designers and IFE providers to some of the world’s biggest airlines. 

“The unparalleled impact on our industry has caused significant challenges for all airlines,” says a Qatar Airways representative. “The closure of borders worldwide meant there were major cancellations on many international routes, with some airlines halting operations completely.”

Anthony Florian, Honeywell Aerospace’s vice-president of airlines for EMEAI, agrees. “In the space of a few months, Covid-19 transformed our world, affecting basic activities and how we work. 

“Covid also had a profound effect on the way we do business, with companies across virtually all sectors being impacted in some way by the economic turbulence of a pandemic that has spread around the world at a speed we have not seen in modern history.” 

Qatar Airways was not one of the airlines that shut down all its services. Despite the drop in demand, the carrier remained in operation, dropping to a low of 33 destinations in May 2020 before rising to its current number of 130. During this period, it implemented a number of measures to keep the exposure to Covid to a minimum and reassure those passengers still choosing to fly. 

With face masks mandatory on practically all flights for the foreseeable future, Honeywell ramped up its production of N95 masks and established new operations globally.  And as part of its on-board safety measures, Qatar has included the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for cabin crew and a complimentary protective kit for passengers. Business class passengers on aircraft equipped with Qsuite also have the chance for more privacy with sliding privacy partitions and the option of a ‘Do not disturb’ indicator. 

Innovations haven’t been limited to PPE either; these have encompassed nearly every aspect of the cabin. Earlier this year, Qatar began to introduce 100 per cent zero-touch technology to its Oryx One in-flight entertainment system across its A350 aircraft. Introduced in partnership with the Thales AVANT IFE system, the technology enables passengers to pair their personal electronic devices (PEDs) with their seat-back IFE screen by connecting to the Oryxcomms network and scanning a QR code displayed on the screen. 

They can then use their PEDs to navigate and enjoy more than 4,000 options on offer through the airline’s IFE system, limiting the frequency of on‑board surface contact.

“Several of the measures we have implemented are temporary, but the industry will likely see some long-term changes,” asserts a Qatar Airways representative. “It is far too early to anticipate what changes will become more permanent, as these will be driven by the availability of vaccinations and consumer behaviour as well as airport and health protocols. Our vision is to have a more contactless and seamless travel experience for our passengers.” 


Similarly, Honeywell says it has been pivoting the company to develop and provide technologies to help people feel safe to fly again. Florian emphasises that it has been “rapidly working on software offerings” using Honeywell Forge “to address passenger needs over the long run and make the flying experience more efficient and comfortable”. 

Cleanliness is key

Certainly, one thing that won’t be changing any time soon is the need for cleanliness. According to Honeywell’s survey, passengers are now placing an increasing importance on cleanliness, safety and hygiene. With the issue at the top of every passenger’s priority list, airlines and manufacturers are working around the clock to make sure each stage of the journey feels, and looks, clean. 

“The airline that is best able to meet the safety and hygiene needs of their passengers will stand to benefit once travel resumes,” observes Florian. 

One of the biggest innovations used during the pandemic has been the implementation of UV-C lights as a disinfection tool. According to Honeywell’s survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they would like to see the introduction of advanced cleaning systems prior to boarding. “All these safety and hygiene considerations did not even exist less than a year ago and yet now it has become an essential element of the journey,” Florian points out. 

Qatar Airways says that it was one of the first to use Honeywell’s ultraviolet cabin system. Utilised as an additional step after manual disinfection on board, the device’s extendable UV arms treat aircraft seats, surfaces and cabins using UV light. The size of a trolley cart, the company claims that it can treat an entire mid-sized aircraft cabin in less than 10 minutes. 

And given the pace that technological advances are moving at, companies are always introducing the next best thing. For Honeywell, creating a UV Treatment Wand was a next logical progression to its UV Treatment System, which included a UV wand and portable backpack. “This was a product that we saw a need for and which can easily be used in a multitude of transportation options, from buses and trains to cars and small aircraft,” explains Florian. 

Another way that airlines and manufacturers have been working to keep passengers happy is through the use of antimicrobial technology. Some companies have integrated it directly into components, while others have developed a spray to use on existing surfaces. 

Recently, a partnership between Muirhead and Polygiene created a sustainable natural leather with built in antimicrobial technology. Designed for the aviation, bus, coach and rail sectors, Muirhead Active Hygiene Leather with Polygiene ViralOff is a sustainable leather with built-in antimicrobial self-cleaning properties.

“We are pleased to offer Muirhead Active Hygiene Leather with Polygiene ViralOff to take seat hygiene to a new level and play a key role in setting new standards in cabin wellness,” says Muirhead sales director Archie Browning. “The team at Muirhead are working closely with airlines, design studios and aircraft manufacturers to create interiors solutions for the future of travel and transportation.”

The company says Polygiene ViralOff is permanently integrated into the leather during the production process. It claims that, in addition to breaking down the bacteria that cause odours, ViralOff breaks down viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 – which causes Covid-19 – by more than 99 per cent within two hours.

Meanwhile, Aereos Inc has been working to develop aircraft interior parts integrated with an antimicrobial technology solution.  The silver ion technology built into Aereos’ high-touch interior products has been tested over a 24- hour period and certified as greater than 99.8 per cent effective against microbes, it claims. 

Additionally, the antimicrobial technology contained in the parts is certified by HACCP International (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) and is approved as food contact-safe by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

“We are pleased to play a part in helping airlines build passenger confidence by introducing a line of antimicrobial high-touch aircraft parts that work 24/7, during and even between traditional cleanings by the airlines. Our introduction to the market was a combined effort of Aereos with our innovative proprietary processes and technologies developed over decades by highly skilled engineers in concert with BioCote’s experienced team, leveraging 25-plus years of success in the antimicrobial field,” explains Aereos partner David Baker.

He claims that high-touch aircraft interior products designed and manufactured by Aereos Interior Solutions with integrated BioCote silver ion antimicrobial technology provide “long lasting protection” that doesn’t wear out or wash off and reduces odour and stain-causing microbes on high-touch surfaces. The range of products also lessens cross-contamination from surface to surface, retains colour and protection throughout each layer of the products and is certified greater than 99.8 per cent effective against microbes. 

The way forward

One of the biggest expected innovations to entice passengers back into the air, along with the dissemination of Covid vaccines, is the worldwide use of health passports. 

Qatar says that, for air travel to resume as predicted, governments need to work with international bodies such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to establish guidelines and come up with solutions. One such solution already being trialled is IATA’s Travel Pass, a digital platform for passengers that can function as a global and standardised solution to validate and authenticate country regulations regarding Covid-19 travel requirements. To date, more than 20 airlines have announced trials of the travel pass. 

“Entry restrictions around the world are the biggest impediment to many people resuming travel,” maintains the Qatar spokesperson. “As restrictions begin to ease, we expect passenger demand to increase gradually. 

“In many ways, restrictions have made people realise how precious the ability to travel really is and perhaps was taken for granted. We believe that travel will steadily return, limited by entry restrictions rather than customer confidence. People will want to travel again, experience the world and meet friends and family, plus business travel will recommence at some point too.” 

It is evident that passengers are ready to take to the skies again and the confidence induced by the various precautions is only inspiring them to book seats even faster. As Florian at Honeywell notes: “The findings of our survey clearly demonstrate that the appetite for flying has not waned despite the pandemic. 

“The needs of our customers have changed because of the Covid landscape and there are new expectations of the travel industry. While the travel experience may have changed, what has not changed is the fact that most people want to fly again,” he concludes. 

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