With the threat of H1N1, the CDC is now focusing on air filtration in airplanes.
Airplanes use HEPA filters to filter air in the cabin. HEPA filters are the same air filters found in hospitals.
However, the filters are useless if the air conditioning is not running. Air conditioning is powered by airplane engines when a plane is in flight, but when the plane is on the ground, it takes auxiliary power to keep it going.
American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner says running auxiliary power burns up too much fuel, so the airline has decided not to run the AC while its planes are on the ground.
Critics say American’s policy goes against the CDC’s recommendation that the aircraft air conditioning system should remain on until all passengers and crew have disembarked in order to maximize continued removal of virus particles from the cabin.
Boeing issued a similar finding that “full operation of the air-condition packs is recommended when passengers are on board.”
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines says it developed a solution four years ago. When a plane is at the gate, ground crews attach a yellow duct that ties the plane to an AC unit in the terminal.
“Once it’s pumped into the aircraft, it goes through the same HEPA filters and filtration system. The same volume of air, same cooling capacity, heating capacity” says Southwest’s director of maintenance Shawn Jenson.
Passengers typically remain on the ground for no more than 20 minutes. But the CDC warns that still ample time for viruses to spread if the air is not properly filtered.
“It’s a closed air system in there. That’s the only thing that concerns me” says passenger Tony Davis of Plano.
American Airlines says the recommendations from the CDC and Boeing are for when passengers with H1N1 are actually on board, but released a statement explaining their position. “American works closely with the CDC, the ATA medical committee and other health organizations. Our staff doctors literally speak to the CDC to get their recommendations and we follow their recommendations.”