Light and varnish to combat germsBacteria and viruses feel at home in airplanes. While one company fights it with UV light, another relies on coatings.
06.04.17 – 14:13 | Timo Nowack 0 comments
Fighting germs: The Germfalcon works with ultraviolet radiation. At the Aircraft Interior Expo trade show in Hamburg, Germany ..
… want Germfalcon inventor Arthur Kreitenberg (r.) and his son and business manager Elliot (l.) find customers for their invention.
To illustrate this, the Kreitenbergs have brought bacteria with them – according to their own information collected on the flight from the USA to Germany.
The Mankiewicz company from Hamburg does not rely on retrospective control, but on prevention through antimicrobial paints and coatings.
Arthur Kreitenberg and his son Elliot have done it cleverly: At their booth at the Aircraft Interior Expo in Hamburg, they have laid out Petri dishes with cultivated bacterial cultures. "We collected these on the flight here from the U.S.," says Elliot Kreitenberg, making sure you get a little creeped out just thinking about the next flight. What Elliot and Arthur Kreitenberg want to achieve: Arouse interest in their new device. The so-called Germfalcon is a trolley that – like a hawk – spreads its wings, or rather arms, and uses ultraviolet radiation (UV-C) to disinfect seats, tables and armrests. It also reaches into the toilet compartments.
"I'm a surgeon, and in the hospital we use ultraviolet radiation to kill germs," says Arthur Kreitenberg, who invented the Germfalcon. "When I read a study on the spread of influenza by airplane passengers, I wondered what airlines were doing for disinfection. And the answer was: nothing."
Bacteria in the seat pocket for seven days
This is how he designed the Germfalcon. It is pushed through the cabin aisle by a person who is protected by a transparent plastic cover so as not to get sunburned by the UV radiation. In an airplane with a narrow fuselage, the Germfalcon is said to render the seats of an aisle 99.9 percent germ-free in just two minutes. If there is evidence of heavier germ contamination, the process goes more slowly. The Kreitenbergs claim to destroy not only influenza and noroviruses, for example, with their machine, but everything up to and including Sars and Ebola.
U.S. researchers showed in 2014 that there is ample reason for disinfection: they spread Escherichia coli and multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus on armrests, food trays, blinds, seat pockets and lavatory door handles. Biologists found that bacteria feel quite at home in airplanes. "Both types of bacteria can survive for days, especially on porous materials like seat pockets or armrests," says co-study leader Kiril Vaglenov. The record was achieved by multiresistant staphylococci. They survived in the seat pocket for seven days.
At the Aircraft Interior Expo in Hamburg, not only the Germanfalcon is hunting for germs. The Mankiewicz company from Hamburg produces antimicrobial coatings. "They work through a silver technology," explains project coordinator Kathleen Matz. Ten years the coatings are supposed to protect against germs. "We can imagine a use for the folding tables of the seats, for example," says Matz. So far, Mankiewicz's coatings are already in use on Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 787 lavatories, he says, and are also an option for the Airbus A350.
Thus Mankiewicz has something ahead of Germfalcon. The Kreitenbergs' company had already announced in May 2016 that "some airlines" were interested, but could not present an end customer. This has not yet changed by the time of the fair in Hamburg. However, Germfalcon just got a lot of recognition and attention by being nominated as a finalist in the Chrystal Cabine Awards, even if it wasn't enough to win in the end. Elliot Kreitenberg also asserts that representatives from Airbus and Boeing have called the concept revolutionary. Boeing, meanwhile, is already working with UV light itself: in March 2016, the U.S. aircraft manufacturer presented an aircraft lavatory that disinfects itself thanks to ultraviolet radiation.
So antimicrobial coating, directly integrated UV light or still use of the Germfalcon? From the passenger's point of view, all this should perhaps not be mutually exclusive, but rather complementary.