Making significant structural changes to the aircraft cabin simply isn’t going to happen right now. For all the creativity and ingenuity around options to deliver greater physical isolation for passengers, it is just not happening right now. But what if the changes were more subtle? Perhaps just an adjustment to the overhead passenger service unit,quickly and easily installed, would be more palatable to carriers?
Seattle-based design firm Teague is pitching its AirShield concept as a “commercially viable solution to social distancing for air travel,” hoping to further improve on the air flow advantages available within aircraft. And air vents above the seat are just the place to effect that change.
Mitigating the potential spread of germs is all about reducing droplet transmissions, particularly the range they can travel to reach other passengers. The general air flow patterns on board and the HEPA filtration systems offer some reduction in range. The gaspers (i.e. air vents) overhead help as well. Teague acknowledges the value of the gaspers but also the current limitations; it wants more.
The primary intent of the gasper system is passenger comfort, not protection. To improve the effectiveness of gasper airflow to mitigate the spread of contagions, the shape and position of the air jet must be optimized for this purpose, and local control of airflow eliminated.
Creating a wall of air
AirShield takes the cone of air flow generated by the gasper and converts it into an invisible wall in front of each traveler. The downward force of the air (and the fact that it cannot be turned off by the passenger) helps drive any exhaled droplets down to the floor of the plane before they can reach an adjacent seat. And the company cites some impressive computational fluid dynamics research supporting the idea’s value.
Not only does Teague have data on how the air flow changes, but it is proposing a concept that can be quickly manufactured via additive manufacturing/3-D printing using known airworthy materials. This enables “rapid production and customization” for different aircraft types and seating arrangements. It also enables the design to include significant internal structures, such as baffling and ducting to further improve airflow.
Further considerations to bring AirShield to life
AirShield is, for now, just a concept. Teague notes that future airflow analysis is needed to validate the performance of the air wall against coughing and sneezing, not just regular breathing. It also requires expanded analysis to ensure that the air flow patterns will work throughout the cabin, not just in a single row. The acoustic considerations of the airflow must also be analyzed to determine suitability for implementation.
The company must also refine the design to ensure that the air curtain flow meets the goals. The interface between the internal ducting and the AirShield must also be addressed.
In short, the AirShield is very much just a concept right now, not a product.
And, like all the redesigned seating products, it is likely a concept that won’t fly. But this one is easier to get on board than new structures on the seats. And it does not require reducing aircraft capacity, making it more financially palatable to airlines.
More ideas to counter viral spread on board:
- Safran’s Interspace retrofits aim to deliver more isolation on board
- Fighting for the middle: A pandemic seating shift
- IATA recommends against blocked middle seats, favors “layered” protections
- Introducing yin-yang seating for economy class
- A new take on amenity kits in the COVID-19 era