by Ngọc Anh Nguyễn / 9 minutes read

Cleaning and disinfection of aircraft during and after pandemics

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the airline industry and brought about a catastrophe for the whole of the aviation sector. Governments and all other aviation stakeholders are working together to develop a single strategy for a gradual resume of operations.

The aircraft cleaning and disinfection processes, which go above and above the previous standards, are probably going to be included in the list of requirements for a restart process, according to IATA Medical Advisory Group. Improved routine cleaning is expected to reassure passengers and boost their trust in the decreased danger of communicable disease transmission in aviation systems.

Aircraft cleaning & disinfection programs during pandemic

Programs update 

Based on the airport strategy for enhanced cleaning and disinfection, local regulatory requirements, and company risk assessment, airport must examine and modify their cleaning and disinfection processes during the pandemic. It will be updated in compliance with industry standards and guidelines as well as the WHO Guide on Hygiene and Sanitation in Aviation.

It is crucial to emphasize that any precautions implemented in response to COVID-19 and other communicable diseases must be gradual and adjusted to the existing situation. They should be increased initially in cases of higher risk and decreased or eliminated as local conditions improve. The airport is also accountable as one of the facilities to aware of.

Cleaning personnel

Based on the pandemic demands, each company shall develop a multi-layered approach strategy which may include: 

(a) Hygiene routines 

  • Availability of hand washing facilities
  • Frequent handwashing and/or use of alcohol-based sanitizers 
  • Personal hygiene to include minimal face-touching, encourage covering of mouth to avoid droplet spreading via coughing 
  • Understanding and recognition of COVID-19 symptoms or another communicable disease 
  • Encourage testing and vaccinations when needed and where available

(b) Physical distancing 

  • Distances to be observed between personnel while on duty and/or during breaks 
  • Separation of teams during a shift and movement to/from the aircraft and another workplace 
  • Scheduling of the same teams to work the same days, creation of “bubble” teams. 
  • Conduct contactless handovers, i.e., via telephone, videoconference, electronic logs, or at a minimum through physical distancing 
  • Reduction of unnecessary personnel movement around the airport 

(c) Personal protection equipment (PPE) e.g. procedural masks, face covers, shields, goggles, gloves, gowns, aprons, etc. 

  • Each company shall define the type of PPE their cleaning personnel shall use depending on local rules and regulation and on the risk of exposure (e.g. type of activity) and the transmission dynamics (e.g. droplet spread) 
  • i. If splashing is possible, eye protection may be required according to the manufacturer’s label 
  • ii. Disposable gloves are recommended by the manufacturer of the disinfectant 
  • iii. Disposable gowns should be worn while cleaning the cabin and lavatories 

(d) Health monitoring, screening and testing such as temperature measuring of personnel, symptom recognition, health declaration etc. 

Management oversight

To guarantee that cleaning and disinfection are done effectively, a monitoring procedure needs to be put in place. An oversight program must contain a process control review in addition to a "visual" inspection of the cleanliness to guarantee that disinfectants are effectively eliminating microorganisms. The following must be included in these process controls:

  • Cleaning and disinfection techniques, frequency, and methods
  • The usage and effects of cleaning and disinfection chemicals 
  • Personnel competency and training 
  • The requirement to integrate process effectiveness in performance measures.
  • Following up on suspicious or positive cases

To confirm that process controls and measures have been implemented and are being used, a periodic review is conducted.

Airport must examine and modify their cleaning and disinfection processes during the pandemic (Source: Internet)
Airport must examine and modify their cleaning and disinfection processes during the pandemic (Source: Internet)

Aircraft Cleaning and disinfection

Aircraft Cleaning

The process of disinfection starts with cleaning, which is crucial. Although cleaning techniques are typically unchanged, it may be necessary to vary the frequency and regions that are cleaned. Cleaning using disinfection solutions also results in disinfection and can therefore be merged into one process, even though disinfection is often a separate process from cleaning (since the dirt/soil needs to be removed before disinfection).

The process of disinfection starts with cleaning (Source: Internet)
The process of disinfection starts with cleaning (Source: Internet)

Aircraft Disinfection

On a surface that has been cleaned earlier, disinfection is done. The risk levels of the routes, destinations, transit stops, aircraft types, configurations, methods, and products used, as well as the duration of the method's disinfecting effects, cleaning intervals, and other factors, should be taken into account when each airline implements its disinfection procedures and processes.

Aircraft Cleaning and disinfection product

Product selection

The selection of chemicals for use in pathogen mitigation must be safe for the board aircraft use and not have any negative effects on the health of the crew, passengers, or employees.

  • Refer to the local health authorities for recommendations on products effective against COVID-19 or other communicable disease. Note: The selection of the product may need to be approved by the local authorities if applicable. 
  • Refer to the aircraft manufacturers' (OEM) guidance for the most recent recommendations Note: The ICAO CART Guidance includes OEMs recommendation to use a 70% Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) solution as a disinfectant for the touch surfaces in the cockpit, cabin and cargo holds. 
  • Cleaning and disinfection products should comply with and be certified or tested according to OEM standards and/or industry test standards, such as SAE International standards, as listed in Section 4 of this document. Consult with OEMs before using any disinfection agents that do not comply with SAE standards is required. 
  • Refer to the cleaning and disinfection product manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that the proper application, frequency, quantity, ventilation and personal protection equipment is used.

Product use

The airline is in charge of making sure that the ground handling or cleaning business follows the right procedures and uses chemicals in accordance with local health regulations and the instructions of the aircraft manufacturer (OEM). The airline must approve all products before they are used.

It is crucial that cleaning and disinfectant products be used solely in accordance with their manufacturer's Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and product specifications, that personnel wear the appropriate PPE, and that airlines make sure that use is routinely reviewed and that any effects are tracked and evaluated within company SMS.

On a surface that has been cleaned earlier, disinfection is done (Source: Internet)
On a surface that has been cleaned earlier, disinfection is done (Source: Internet)

Aircraft cleaning and disinfection on ground

Action prior to aircraft cleaning

OEMs advise increasing total cabin airflow to reduce person-generated pollutant concentrations during ground and flight operations; hence, care should be made to prevent obstructing air vents (particularly along the floor).

There may be exceptions for particular aircraft models, however the following are typical suggestions for cabin air concerns. For inquiries pertaining to a given aircraft type, it is strongly advised that operators speak with the aircraft OEM.

  • The aircraft Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) should be permitted to be used at the gate/stand to enable the aircraft’s air conditioning system to be operated, if equivalent filtration from the external PreConditioned Air (PCA) is not available. 
  • If the aircraft has an air recirculation system but does not have High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters installed, refer to OEM documents or contact the OEM to determine the recirculation system setting. 
  • It is recommended that fresh air and recirculation systems be operated to exchange the volume of cabin air before cleaning crew enter the aircraft for cleaning purposes.

Actions during aircraft cleaning

  • Once on board, ventilation systems should be kept running while cleaning takes place.

Note: In some cases, depending on the technique used for disinfection, regulators may recommend that the air conditioner be turned off during the disinfection operation and the passenger cabin fully ventilated after disinfection.

  • To avoid contamination on board, cleaning crew shall:

1. Be assigned specific tasks as much as possible.

2. Use different cleaning materials in each task area (e.g. cloths, buckets, brushes, mops), potentially using color coded items.

  • Use disinfection product as per the recommendation in the section on Cleaning and disinfection products.
  • Clean and disinfect all defined areas in the next part by using approved disinfection products as per Cleaning and disinfection products section and appropriate cleaning materials/tools such as mopping, wiping, or any other approved techniques and procedures.

Aircraft Cleaning and disinfection tasks

The tasks provide a framework for airlines. It is of each airline, as per their specific assessments and needs to: 

  • Establish which tasks they deem necessary to be completed during an aircraft cleaning interval. 
  • Adhere to airline specifications regarding cleaning and disinfection tasks. 
  • During a pandemic, it is essential that airlines perform a risk assessment based on the regulatory requirements, airport cleaning plan, and OEM recommendations to develop mitigation plans, including amending their existing cleaning and disinfection procedures. 
  • Review and update their cleaning matrices based on specific configurations of their aircraft types. 
  • Clean and disinfect cabin, seating, and crew rest areas
  • Monitor high-contact surface areas in aircraft as much as possible, include such areas in their cleaning checklists
  • Ensure the cleaning and disinfection products are used in correct mixing ratio according to the application instructions and/or product safety data sheet (SDS). Ensure that the correct mixing ratio is used for relevant area as per SDS.
  • Ensure the correct application method is used according to the application instructions and/or product SDS (e.g. apply with pre-moistened wipes or single use wetted cloth). 
  • To avoid contamination on board, cleaning staff shall carry their own cleaning equipment

Actions after aircraft cleaning

After cleaning and disinfection, ensure cleaning crew disembark with all items for cleaning including all garbage.

OEMs advise increasing total cabin airflow to reduce person-generated pollutant concentrations during ground and flight operations (Source: Internet)
OEMs advise increasing total cabin airflow to reduce person-generated pollutant concentrations during ground and flight operations (Source: Internet)

Be responsible, be safe

This article which is about aircraft cleaning and disinfection, is updated based on the industry needs. It includes procedures of

IGOM, various regulatory and industry guidance as listed and includes the Best Practices from stakeholders within IATA governance.

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Ngọc Anh Nguyễn

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Since my major in university is Marketing, I always grasp the chance to improve my skills to become an all-rounded Marketer in the future. This job, to some extent, has brought me a lot of knowledge about multiple areas, which will be beneficial to my study career. In my free time, I'm into reading and watching classic movies. My favorite genre of all time is romantic comedy.

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