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Army conducts commercial aircraft decontamination efficacy test

Image of Man wearing mask, looking at ceiling of an airplane. Commercial Aircraft Decontamination Efficacy Test conducted November 2020 to March 2021 at Dugway Proving Ground. The test determined if current means of neutralizing the SARS-C0V-2 virus in a passenger jet, which causes the disease COVID-19, are effective, and to possibly find even better methods. (Photo by Albert Vogel, Army Dugway Proving Grounds.)

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The BioTesting Division (BTD) at the U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground in Utah will soon start a study to determine how severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is transmitted among airline passengers. The efficacy of practices to decontaminate the virus that causes COVID-19 will also be studied.

A section of a jet airliner fuselage, containing three rows of seats, five windows, overhead storage bins, armrests and folding seat-back trays was trucked to Dugway Proving Ground for the test. Outside air will pass through the fuselage’s intact ventilation system, to study interior airflow and how the virus is disseminated.

SARS-CoV-2, which causes the COVID-19 disease, will be used only in industrially filtered and sealed labs at BTD. MS2, a virus that infects E. coli bacteria but is harmless to humans, will simulate SARS-CoV-2 outside the labs as required. The test will be conducted from mid-November through March 2021.

“MS2 has been used a lot in these kind of decontamination studies,” said a BTD Test Officer Angelo Madonna, which resides on DPG, but it is a tenant unit under the command of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Chemical Biological Center.

Two commercial sprayers and two commercial liquid disinfectants will be tried in different combinations on surfaces in the passenger area to gauge effectiveness.

“They also want to know if the virus can be disinfected when it’s airborne,” Madonna said.

Part of this trial includes a machine that replicates the release of particles by human coughing, sneezing and speaking and is combined with artificial saliva developed in the lab.

A variety of trials will explore, using the MS2 simulant, how SARS-CoV-2 travels within a commercial airliner’s fuselage. The most practical and effective means to decontaminate, hoping to make airline travel safer without long delays and setup, will also be examined. This includes ultraviolet light’s effectiveness against aerosolized viruses.

Also, samples of fabric and plastic taken from the fuselage will be contaminated in the filtered lab with the MS2 virus, then disinfected with current equipment and methods.

Ultimately, the varied testing conducted at BTD is expected to advance our understanding of the transmission and decontamination of SARS-CoV-2, which has infected more than 47 million people worldwide with the COVID-19 disease.

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