No plexiglass on planes, aircraft manufacturers say

Representatives of aircraft manufacturers Boeing, Airbus and Embraer dismissed the concept of installing plexiglass partitions on their aircraft.
Representatives of aircraft manufacturers Boeing, Airbus and Embraer dismissed the concept of installing plexiglass partitions on their aircraft.

Don't expect to see plexiglass partitions separating aircraft seats anytime soon.

In a webinar put on by IATA Thursday, representatives of aircraft manufacturers Boeing, Airbus and Embraer dismissed the concept, which has been a topic of discussion during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We are not investigating anymore these type of devices, and we are not recommending them anymore to be installed on aircraft," said Bruno Fargeon, leader of the Airbus Keep Trust in Travel Initiative.

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Fargeon said that such partitions could negatively impact cabin airflow, which would be a detriment to virus control. In addition, they would be an additional surface that would need to be regularly cleaned.

Beyond those problems, partitions would have negative ramifications on emergency evacuations.

Dan Freeman, engineering director of Boeing's Confident Travel Initiative, agreed with Fargeon and also said partitions could impact passengers' ability to reach for oxygen masks.

Freeman explained that any time manufacturers consider tweaking an aircraft interior, they must think not only about how the change will impact the problem being addressed but also how it will affect everything else on the aircraft.

• Related: Studies chart in-flight transmission of Covid-19 early in the pandemic

"There are a lot of things that have to be considered even when adding something as simple as a shield between seats," he said.

Luis Carlos Alfonso, vice president of engineering, technology and strategy for Embraer, echoed those sentiments.

"We don't think these are good ideas," he said of partitions.

Earlier in the webcast, the engineers explained the results of simulation studies each of their companies have separately conducted, which modeled the movement through the cabin of droplets and aerosols from coughs, sneezes and speaking.

With droplets and aerosols deterred by aircraft's hospital-grade air filters that circulate air from up to down, Boeing concluded that a full airplane economy cabin, with people sitting next to one another, is comparable from a transmission risk standpoint to a conference room with people spaced at least seven feet apart.

Fargeon said that one cough expels approximately 10,000 droplets. However, just five of those droplets at the most will reach the passenger in the adjacent seat, assuming that both parties are wearing masks.

The webcast was part of an effort by IATA to assure the public that flying during the pandemic is safe. IATA chief medical advisor David Powell said safety is also enhanced because flyers face the same direction and don't tend to speak loudly. Seat backs also present a physical barrier to the flow of droplets and aerosols.


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