Robots bring confidence to airlines

On Swiss planes, a robot with virus-killing ultraviolet light is being tested. In 13 minutes, these robots will fully disinfect a single-aisled aircraft. 

It is hoped that by doing so, customer interest in the travel industry would be restored. COVID-19 is a virus that infects people.

Another concept aimed at restoring passenger interest and sparing the travel industry more pandemic pain is a robot equipped with virus-killing ultraviolet light that is being evaluated on Swiss airplanes.

Within Embraer jets from Helvetic Airways, a charter airline operated by Swiss billionaire Martin Ebner, the Swiss firm is conducting robot trials with Dubai-based airport services group Dnata.

Aircraft manufacturers must also certify the devices, and UVeya co-founder Jodoc Elmiger said that they are investigating the effect of their UV light on interior upholstery, which could fade after repeated disinfections.

Even as COVID-19 circulates, he remains optimistic that robot cleaners can reduce people’s apprehension of flight.

“This is an established technology that has been used in hospitals and labs for over 50 years and is very effective,” Elmiger said on Wednesday. “It doesn’t leave any residue or traces.”

Elmiger’s team has so far designed three designs, one of which he showed inside a Helvetic plane at Zurich Airport, which saw a 75 percent drop in traffic last year.

As it steadily advanced up the Embraer’s aisle, the robot’s lights, fixed on a crucifix-shaped base, shone a soft-blue glow over all. A single-aisled plane can be disinfected in 13 minutes from start to finish, while larger planes require longer.

Dnata executives are hoping that airplane manufacturers will approve the robots, which Elmiger expects will sell for about 15,000 Swiss francs ($15,930) each, while policymakers demand new precautions to guarantee that passengers do not get ill while flying.

“We needed a long-term and environmentally sound approach to meet such demands,” said Lukas Gyger, Dnata’s chief operating officer in Switzerland.

Although Helvetic, which is privately held, has not required bailouts like the rest of the sector, its company has been decimated, and its fleet is mostly idle in hangars. According to Mehdi Guenin, a spokesman for Helvetic, UV robots might help improve that.

“If our passengers and crew realize our plane is clean — that there are no viruses or bacteria on board,” Guenin said, “it could make them travel again.”

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