SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines (SIA) has stepped up the cleaning and disinfecting of its aircraft to prevent the spread of COVID-19, amid a decline in demand for air travel.
SIA has also made changes to its in-flight services to reduce contact between passengers and crew, such as by replacing its in-flight magazines and using pre-packed wet towelettes instead of hot towels.
The national carrier began introducing enhanced safety measures shortly after Chinese New Year, when the coronavirus situation became more serious, SIA in-flight services operations manager Nicole Lew told reporters on Friday (Feb 21).
In addition to its existing hygiene measures - which include the cleaning of washrooms, vacuuming of carpets and cleaning of surfaces such as tray tables - SIA is also using a strong disinfectant on areas such as in-flight entertainment screens and windows.
For flights from mainland China - where the virus is believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan - SIA also takes the added step of fogging the cabin.
Before fogging is conducted, the cleaning team from aviation services provider SATS removes all blankets.
Soiled and unused linen are also bagged and removed from the plane, and disinfected before going through high temperature washing.
The fogging, which is conducted by SIA Engineering, takes up to 60 minutes for most aircraft, and 90 minutes for the larger Airbus A380.
Ms Lew said the chemical used is Calla 1452, which has been approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Workers from SATS then begin another round of cleaning, using disinfectant wipes on surfaces in the washrooms and cabin.
Soft furnishings such as pillow cases and headrests are then placed back in their positions, before regular aircraft cleaning begins.
“Turnaround time is very important to the airline, but for the safety of our passengers we are willing to do this (additional cleaning),” said Ms Lew.
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, along with Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min, witnessed some of these enhanced cleaning measures on one of SIA's Airbus A350 aircraft on Friday.
Speaking to the media after his visit, Dr Lam noted the toll that COVID-19 has had on the aviation industry, with more than 80 per cent of flights between mainland China and Singapore cancelled due to the outbreak.
“We are aware that cleanliness is something that is on the mind of passengers, and by implementing some of these measures, it’s reassuring to passengers and reassuring to the crew as well,” he said.
SIA and its regional subsidiary SilkAir has been forced to cut flights across its network because of lower demand due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Affected destinations include Frankfurt, Jakarta, London, Tokyo and Los Angeles.
On Friday the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the global airline industry could lose up to US$29.3 billion of revenue this year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Carriers in the Asia Pacific region alone are set to see US$27.8 billion in losses.