Study: Aircraft May Have Lowest Particulate Level Compared to Other Indoor Spaces

By Kurt Stolz on 4 March 2021
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Coach cabin of a Delta Boeing 767-300ER

A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology shows that aircraft cabins have the lowest levels of aerosol particles compared to other indoor spaces such as stores, homes, and offices, an important consideration given that aerosol particles have been identified as a major means through which Covid-19 is transmitted.

The research, which was conducted in July 2020 and supported by Delta Air Lines, used handheld instruments in the indoor spaces to measure the number of such particles. The analysis included 19 commercial flights operated by Delta.  Measurements were taken in airport terminals, at the gate during the boarding process, and in the aircraft during taxi and climb, while at cruising altitude, and during descent.  The study measured both size-resolved particle mass and number, something the researchers said was a first in such studies.

Modern aircraft have an extremely high rate of ventilation compared to other spaces: air inside the cabin is exchanged at the rate of ten to 30 times per hour.

The lead researcher  – Nga Lee Ng, an associate professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular engineering and the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences – emphasized that “a high ventilation rate and clean air supply [is critical in order] to lower the concentration of particles in indoor spaces.”

Ng said that the research confirmed that  “[T]he in-flight cabin had the lowest particle mass and particle number concentration.”

Meanwhile, restaurants had the highest particulate levels – on average 29,400 particles per cubic centimeter, a finding that the study attributed to the cooking taking place in kitchens there.  Stores had the next highest levels, followed by vehicles, homes, and offices.  In offices, the number of particulates per cubic centimeter was 2,473.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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