British researchers have developed an air filter system that destroys up to 99.9 per cent of infectious viruses and bacteria as well as pollutants that can circulate in the confines of an aircraft, especially on long-haul flights.
According to a report in The Times, the machine has been developed by aerospace giant BAE Systems, in collaboration with Quest International, a small company based in Cheadle, South Manchester, UK.
The device, called AirManager, uses a controlled electric field to filter out and destroy any airborne particles or germs as they pass through an aircraft's air conditioning system, emitting only clean, sterilized air.
After four years of development and tests, BAE says it has received its first orders from a major European airline and announced the technology is also being considered for use in NHS hospitals as a way to stop the spread of "superbugs" such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile.
The air on board a passenger jet must be pressurized in order for passengers to be able to breathe, but scientists and lobby groups have previously claimed that passengers can be exposed to toxins as a result of the "bleed air" system that is used to redirect air from the engines to the cabin and cockpit.
Air inside the cabin is then circulated and re-circulated up to 30 times an hour, far more than in conventional air conditioning systems, meaning that infectious viruses and bacteria can quickly spread.
Unlike conventional filters, which are designed to sieve out particles from the air as it passes through perforated barriers at high speed, David Hallam, an engineer and founder of Quest International, said that the AirManager used an "avalanche of electrons" emitted in a closed electric field to break down and destroy the atomic structure of any pollutants or germs.
"This works with swine flu, avian flu, norovirus, MRSA, even a modified form of anthrax," Hallam said.
Hallam said that he originally designed the "close coupled field" in the late 1990s to rid nursing homes of biological odours caused by bacteria.
But, the filter was later found to have an effect in reducing the airborne transmission of bacteria such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and Clostridium difficile.
BAE Systems expressed interest in the technology four years ago for use on aircraft and the system was recently tested on the flight deck and cabin air systems of Boeing 757 and Avro RJ passenger jets by five European airlines, with successful results.