Reprinted from The Korea Times

By Kim Rahn
Staff Reporter

Airlines are blaming public fears of H1N1 influenza A for a decrease in the number of passengers, along with the economic slump.

Korean Air and Asiana Airlines expected the demand to grow during the summer peak season, but are seeing lower booking rates than in previous years. For Asiana, seats are less than 80 percent booked for July, and Korean Air also expects to have fewer reservations than in previous years.

As part of efforts to recover demand, the airlines are publicizing the cleanliness, improved sanitary conditions and the overall safety of the cabin environment.

According to international aviation law, aircraft makers such as Airbus and Boeing must install state-of-the-art ventilation systems in aircraft to filter out foreign substances and sterilize the air.

In the ventilation system, air from outside the plane flows in through an engine that is heated to more than 2,000 degrees Centigrade, becoming sterilized ― the influenza A virus can’t survive above a temperature of 70 degrees.

The air is cooled after passing through an ozone purifier and then mixes with the air inside the cabin, which is also filtered through a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter, and released into the cabin every two to three minutes.

The air flows from the top down, like an air curtain, so that viruses or other substances don’t spread back and forth between passengers.

Almost all Korean Air and Asiana Airlines aircrafts are equipped with the ventilation system and HEPA filter, the carriers’ managers said.

Besides the air system, the national carriers also thoroughly disinfect the cabin. Korean Air uses a disinfectant named EnviroTru, which is more effective than EcoTru, which was used when severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was rampant in 2003.

The airline staff clean the lavatories, galley, meal tables, cabin armrests, grips and washstands in the lavatories with the disinfectant on every aircraft traveling from countries where flu patients have been confirmed.

According to the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention, no one has been found to have contracted the flu virus on a plane since May.

“The aircraft cabin is almost perfectly sterilized by a state-of-the-art air ventilation system. If passengers wash their hands and pay attention to hygiene, they have a lower chance of getting the disease on the plane than on the ground,” a health expert was quoted as saying by Korean Air.