The risk of catching the coronavirus on an airplane is very low if passengers wear masks, a study conducted aboard Boeing aircraft by the U.S. military and released Thursday revealed.
The researchers used fluorescent sensors and tracers to measure the volume of airborne infectious material emitted by a dummy that simulated normal breathing for an infected person.
The most exposed passengers — those in front, behind, or next to the dummy — were depicted with sensors.
Some 300 ground and in-flight tests were conducted over eight consecutive days in August in cooperation with United Airlines aboard Boeing 767s and 777s.
The study concluded that 99.7% of the particles contaminated with coronavirus were removed by the aircraft’s sophisticated ventilation systems before reaching the passengers closest to the dummy.
When expanded to the 40 seats closest to the infected “person,” the removal rate was 99.99%, according to the study.
The results led military transport officials to conclude that even with a full plane, the level of infection in a twelve-hour flight is negligible.
However, the tests only evaluated one scenario involving a single infected passenger.
They also assumed that everyone on the plane wore a mask continuously and did not consider the possibility of the infected passenger walking around the aircraft.
“Although the tests had limitations, the results are encouraging,” said Commander Joe Pope, the Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) liaison for the study.
“For both the 777 and 767, calculations show that about 54 flight hours are required for a cumulative inhalation of an infectious dose,” Pope said.
The study was conducted by USTRANSCOM and the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA).
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. military has suspended most movement of its troops and their families.