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Risk of catching Covid-19 on plane very low

Date: 19 October 2020 Tags: Reports & Indices


A study by the US Department of Defence has found that the risk of aerosol exposure on airplanes is minimal. 



The study says the risk of transmission of coronavirus on-board can be reduced with the use of HEPA air filters, refreshing the cabin air every two minutes and ensuring top to bottom airflow to protect all passengers.



  • The objective of the study was to determine COVID-19 risk analysis planning with respect to optimal flight capacity, determining risk under different seat configurations, optimising strategies for boarding and de-boarding, and determining which contact tracing strategies would be necessary in case a passenger tests positive soon after landing.

  • The study claims to be the largest such that has conducted aerosol experimental validation testing and involved eight days of both in-flight and ground tests on Boeing 777-200 and the 767-300 aircrafts.

  • The study says that aerosol exposure risk, even on long-duration flights, is minimal. It is highest when the individual is seated in the row of the index patient.

  • Further, rows in front and behind the index patient have the next highest risk of being exposed to aerosols on average.

  • To conduct this research, tracer aerosols, that simulated an infected passenger, were released in multiple rows and seats in order to determine the risk of exposure and penetration into breathing zones of nearby seats. Overall, over 300 aerosol release tests were performed.

  • For the purpose of this study, researchers took into consideration surgical masks, which are most likely to be distributed when other kinds of masks are not available or if a passenger has not brought a mask. 

  • As per the International Air Transport Association (IATA), globally, in 44 COVID-19 cases, transmission is believed to have happened on an airplane, during a time when 1.2 billion passengers have travelled.

  • Further, passengers wearing masks adds a further and significant extra layer of protection in addition to aircraft airflow systems, HEPA filters, the downward flow of air and the high rates of air exchange.