JetBlue to trial ‘GermFalcon’ UV light machine on its planes

Jul 29, 2020

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JetBlue says it will test a new ultraviolet disinfecting tool as the airline industry continues its battle to convince the traveling public that it’s safe to fly.

JetBlue will deploy eight of the beverage cart-sized machines that can cover the length of an airplane in 10 minutes or less. They feature folding arms equipped with a germ-fighting, ultraviolet-light cleaning system that can help disinfect cabin surfaces – including seats, lavatories and galleys.

The devices originally went by the name “GermFalcon” before its makers partnered with Honeywell, which then rebranded the machines under the decidedly less-catchy name “Honeywell UV Cabin System.”

Whatever they’re called, the machines are the latest effort by airlines to focus on safety and hygiene amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has dealt a devastating blow to airlines across the globe.

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In the U.S., air traffic plummeted by as much as 96% earlier in April. Passenger numbers have since rebounded, but only to about 25% of what they were during the same period in 2019. Airlines have said the recovery appears to have stalled, plateauing since early July.

Against that backdrop, airlines have worked overtime to convince a nervous public that flying is safe.

Delta, which has mounted one of the most aggressive campaigns, has partnered with Lysol as part of its cabin cleaning initiative. United was one of the earliest to do so, teaming up with Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic. American is collaborating with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center on its safety protocols during the pandemic.

JetBlue has its own measures to both safeguard and reassure passengers. That includes capping seat sales on its flights to ensure empty seats — giving passengers more space while social distancing is a concern.

More: JetBlue promises you won’t sit next to a stranger on one of its planes

As for its pilot program with Honeywell’s UV Cabin System, JetBlue president Joanna Geraghty called it “a potential game changer when it comes to efficiently assisting in our efforts to sanitize surfaces onboard.”

The Honeywell UV Cabin System will be trialed by JetBlue in the summer of 2020. (Photo courtesy of JetBlue)
The Honeywell UV Cabin System will be trialed by JetBlue in the summer of 2020. Here, a crew member is seen moving the machine through the cabin. (Photo courtesy of JetBlue)

She described it as part of “a layered approach to safety” that augments JetBlue’s other measures, including the cap on seat sales, modifying inflight service and requiring masks for both passengers and crewmembers.

For now, JetBlue has received eight of the Honeywell UV Cabin System machines, which will be trialed for 90 days at the carrier’s bases at New York-JFK and Fort Lauderdale (FLL). During that time, JetBlue says it will be “gauging the system’s place in its operation, while continuing other cleaning methods.”

The devices will help sanitize surfaces, with Honeywell saying that “clinical studies have found to be capable of reducing various viruses and bacteria.”

The machines are expected to make for cleaner surfaces, but recent reports suggest relatively low odds of coronavirus transmission via surfaces – underscoring the airline industry’s efforts to step up mask requirements and enforcement.

More: JetBlue: Flyers want empty middle seats, says international flights coming to LAX

Still, as travel demand has cratered during the pandemic, the industry is looking for every tool to help battle the pandemic. That’s included everything from masks to modified inflight service to new ideas on how to boost cleanliness. Now, JetBlue is trying out the device formerly known as the GermFalcon.

“JetBlue took an immediate interest in this new product when we demonstrated it for them just a few weeks ago, and now JetBlue is receiving our first systems,” Honeywell Aerospace CEO Mike Madsen said in a statement. “We’ve ramped up production quickly on the UV Cabin System, and our company is working on a range of solutions to help make passengers more comfortable about flying.”

Featured photo courtesy of JetBlue

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