Air in planes among the safest, say airlines

REGIONAL airlines, including Singapore Airlines, are worried that unfounded fears about catching SARS while travelling in planes will prevent people from flying again. 

Worse, if left unchecked, it could spell disaster for the industry long after the virus was tamed, said the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA), a grouping with 17 Asian, mainly national, airlines. 

The irony of this misguided notion was that “the air in aircraft cabins is probably safer than anywhere else,” said Richard Stirland, AAPA’s director general. 

It was fresher than that in office buildings, other transport modes and any other enclosed spaces for big crowds, said aircraft manufacturer Boeing and Singapore carrier SIA. 

Plane air is completely replaced with air from outside the aircraft 20 to 30 times every hour.  

This compares favourably against one to three times an hour in a typical building and five to seven times in a hospital operating theatre. 

And before each replacement, passengers breathe in a mix of fresh external air and recycled air that is, to all intents and purposes, devoid of bacteria and virus. 

This recycled air is filtered so well that it is 99.9+% sterile.  

Every SIA plane, including those of regional carrier SilkAir, uses powerful filters known as high-efficiency particulate air filters. 

They are similar to those used in critical wards of hospitals – such as organ transplant and burn wards – and industrial clean rooms. 


SIA and SilkAir replace them at intervals of between 2,000 and 3,000 flight hours, much shorter than the 5,000 to 6,000 hours recommended by Boeing and Airbus. 

In addition, SIA, following the SARS outbreak, has started two procedures to disinfect planes.  


One involves disinfecting all transit and night-stop aircraft and the other, cleaning plane that had a suspected sick passenger. 

Similarly, SilkAir disinfects all night-stop planes and those that have arrived from SARS-affected places, namely Macau, Chengdu, Xiamen and Kunming.  


It also has clear procedures for disinfecting planes that had a SARS suspect onboard. 

The super-clean air in planes was also underlined by the International Air Transport Association, the world’s largest group of airlines, which, together, transport 98% of international air traffic. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network  

  • Another perspective from The Straits Times, a partner of Asia News Network. 

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