COVID-19: Boeing creates ‘Confident Travel Initiative’ as airlines struggle to get people flying

Group will work with industry to help minimise air travel health risks amid global pandemic

Boeing has been hit by the double whammy of the grounding of its 737 MAX following two crashes that killed 346 people and the COVID-19 virus. It's trying to restore confidence in both the passenger sector and with its own customers.(PHOTO: Shutterstock)

American plane maker Boeing has created a new “Confident Travel Initiative” and has appointed long-time Boeing Vice President Mike Delaney to lead the team that will “work to develop new solutions to help minimise air travel health risks amid the COVID-19 pandemic and drive awareness of health safeguards already in place”, the company said in a statement issued on Thursday (14 May). Delaney has worked at Boeing for 31 years and currently serves as vice president of Digital Transformation at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

A screenshot of the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracking site. To access the live site, click on the image. (PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

The Confident Travel Initiative team will work with airlines, global regulators, industry stakeholders, flying passengers, infectious disease experts and behavioural specialists to establish industry-recognised safety recommendations. The team is also advising operators on existing, approved disinfectants that are compatible with the airplane flight decks and cabins and testing other sanitisers.

Boeing’s effort will build on the industry’s enhanced safety approaches – including enhanced cleaning, temperature checks and the use of face coverings – and promote the proven systems already in place to help maintain cabin cleanliness. One such system is the air filtration system present on all Boeing airplanes. The air filtration system incorporates High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters similar to those used in hospitals and industrial clean rooms. HEPA filters are 99.9 percent effective at removing particulates such as viruses, bacteria and fungi before air is recirculated back to the cabin.

A Boeing factory in Everett, Washington. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)
Boeing CEO David Calhoun. (PHOTO: Screenshot from Fox Business News)

“As air travel slowly begins to resume and restrictions ease around the globe, health and safety remain our top priorities for our teams who design, build and service the airplanes and all those who fly on them,” said Boeing President and CEO David Calhoun. “Mike’s deep technical expertise, leadership skills, industry knowledge and great passion for our customers make him uniquely qualified to lead this effort.”

Boeing is still trying to rebuild confidence in the 737 MAX. Friends and relatives of the dead passengers on Lion Air’s Boeing 737 MAX want Boeing executives prosecuted. Boeing remains under investigation by US authorities. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Boeing said it continues to research and evaluate new technologies to enhance safety, including ultraviolet light disinfecting systems and antimicrobial coatings for high-touch surfaces. The company is working with academics, health experts and learning institutions worldwide to field studies and facilitate research on reducing the potential of disease transmission on airplanes.

Michael P. Delaney, vice president for Digital Transformation at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. (PHOTO: Boeing)

“Our commitment to ensuring the health of airline passengers and crews is unwavering,” said Delaney. “We’re working with partners to enhance aircraft cleanliness procedures and identify other areas to further reduce the risk of airborne illness transmission…Air travel is coming back. As that happens, we want passengers and crews to board Boeing airplanes without hesitation.”

The move to create such an organisation is in line with predictions made by various industry representatives like the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Airports Council International (ACI World), and the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), all of whom say restoring passenger confidence in air travel will be key to reviving an industry that has all but been shut down by COVID-19.

An empty departure hall of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand due to COVID-19. The aviation world will be changed by the pandemic and plane makers face a starkly different market ahead. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Airlines and airports are also worried that future challenges like additional social distancing measures at airports and on the airplanes themselves will cost the industry billions of dollars. Plane makers like Boeing and Airbus and also trying to ready themselves for the “new normal” that most in aviation believe will mean fewer airplanes sold, fewer flights and fewer routes, at least for the next three to five years.

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