Coronavirus: SIA uses disinfectant fogging to deep-clean inbound China flights

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan (left) and Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport Lam Pin Min observing a fogging process on a tablet on a Singapore Airlines plane. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Amid heightened sanitisation measures observed nationwide during the Covid-19 outbreak, national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) is making sure all its aircraft - regardless of where they flew from - follow a thorough cleaning regimen before their next flight.

Planes arriving from China are even more rigorously sanitised.

The deep-cleaning measures are part of the airline's moves to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which has proliferated across the world and affected destinations that the carrier flies to.

Before the outbreak, all SIA aircraft are usually thoroughly cleaned on the ground. This entails staff from ground handler Sats' aircraft cleaning division removing food waste and replacing used linen like headrests pillow covers, bedsheets and blankets with fresh sets.

They also clean the toilets, wipe down all surfaces - including in-flight entertainment (IFE) screens, windows and tray tables - and vacuum the carpets.

Since the outbreak, SIA said it now uses a "strong disinfectant" to clean surfaces like tray tables, windows and IFE screens on all flights.

Flights arriving from China undergo fogging to further deep-clean the aircraft.

All blankets and linen are first removed, which takes about 10 minutes.

A team of two or three staff from SIA Engineering then fog the cabin using a chemical called Calla 1452, a disinfectant that has proven effective against a range of viruses, including those that cause Sars and HIV.

Virtually the entire aircraft interior is fogged, including seats, lavatories and overhead bins - areas that are commonly touched or accessed.

The fogging process takes 45 minutes to an hour per plane, and an extra 90 minutes for the double-deck A-380 superjumbos.

Places like lavatories, cabin seats, IFE screens, tray tables and seat rests get a further intensive wipe-down with disinfecting wet wipes.

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Only then are fresh pillowcases, headrests and padded bedsheets brought back in, with regular vacuuming and cleaning rounding off the disinfecting procedure.

With these new measures, the usual 70 minutes it takes to turn an aircraft around has ballooned to nearly three hours, SIA said.

Despite the added cost and time pressure, the airline is willing to do this for the protection of customers and cabin crew, said Ms Nicole Lew, manager of inflight services operations at SIA's customer experience division.

Deep cleaning the planes also requires 20 to 30 per cent more staff, she added.

The cleaning measures were introduced on the eve of Chinese New Year (Jan 24) and rolled out over subsequent days, Ms Lew said.

"Rigorous" disinfection procedures kick in if someone with the Covid-19 disease has flown on an SIA aircraft.

Affected areas within a 6ft (1.8m) radius of the infected passenger will be disinfected with a virucidal disinfectant, following guidelines by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with all surface areas that the passenger could have touched undergoing similar sanitisation.

As for air inside SIA aircraft, a spokesman said it is ordinarily constantly filtered through high-efficiency particulate air (Hepa) filters, which are similar to those used in hospital operating rooms and are effective in filtering out microscopic particles.

Staff from ground handler Sats' aircraft cleaning division doing a second round of cleaning on surface areas in a lavatory with disinfecting wipes. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Cabin air is also refreshed continuously every two to three minutes, or 20-30 times hourly, the spokesman added. Experts say this means passengers are less likely to catch the virus on the plane, compared to someone in an air-conditioned shopping mall or office.

Speaking to media after observing cleaning procedures aboard an SIA A350-900 plane, Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport Lam Pin Min said he was "quite heartened" to see the heightened sanitisation measures, which were "very reassuring" to both passengers and crew.

The coronavirus has resulted in "more than 80 per cent" flight cancellations from China, Dr Lam said, which has impacted the aviation sector here.

He added the $112 million aviation assistance package announced during the recent Budget will bring relief to airlines, ground handlers as well as retail and food and beverage shops in Changi Airport.

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