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Alleviating Transportation Woes: Technology is likely a Silver Bullet, for the Transportation Industry and Beyond By: PJ Piper, Founder & CEO, Far UV Technologies

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March of 2020 was a tipping point: The sudden and surreal realization of just how perilous the human journey can be, hanging by the thinnest of threads. While the world tried to understand what the Covid-19 pandemic meant for the future, billions of people immediately learned how easily dangerous invisible pathogens could upend life, literally on a dime.

Then came learning how to cope with the waxing and waning threat of a pandemic driven by the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 virus. Some 30 months later, a life that balances that reality with a system that enables life to proceed in a more consistent manner still vexes the powers that be and the masses at large. While maybe not as predictable as a lunar cycle, it’s not hard to predict when, where, and how forcefully Covid will surge next. We can often see it playing out abroad before it hits our shores or in other parts of the country before it hits our communities. So then, why do we continue to meander down this road, allowing Covid to surge as it sees fit?

Long before this pandemic, technology that helps to reduce the transmission of a wide array of pathogens, not just viruses, has been in use. You have to look no further than the ultraviolet (UV) devices employed in hospital operating rooms and municipal drinking water, some of the best evidence-based case studies for pathogen mitigation, to see that the answer has been sitting right in front of us all along.

Here we are in the Summer of 2022, Covid is not gone, but most of the mask, vaccine and other mandates that were put into place to help keep it under control are. Because of this, many have been left to believe the worst is behind us; life can go on as it did before all of this started. And so, the itch to get out, to travel to faraway places, something many have been unable to do for a very long time, has also reached a tipping point.

A Mind-Numbing Summer

A perfect storm of events has led to a summer of air travel frustration on an unprecedented scale. As many yearn for a vacation, they feel they’ve earned after being locked away for more than two years, they’re relying on an industry that is still limping along after the first year of the pandemic left it a mere shadow of its former self.

In 2020, travel dropped by nearly 70%, forcing airlines to make deep cuts, from which they have yet to fully recover. On top of this, pilots and flight crews are still frequently calling out sick as Covid lingers and continues to spread. Almost everyone has experienced the domino effect of pilots and flight crews missing their flights and the havoc it wreaks on interrelated flight schedules. At the same time, air travel is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. All of this has led to a mind-numbing summer for air travelers: Unbearably long lines at security checkpoints, long flight delays as airlines scramble to find flight crews and endless cancellations.

It’s a multi-pronged problem. The situation itself could have been avoided had there been better and more widely adopted technologies in place to help reduce transmission in public spaces, including transportation. Simultaneously, it’s a situation that could be adding more fuel to the fire of brewing surges, as travelers go on their way, often maskless, not required to show a negative test as a requirement to board their flight and not protected by any more ventilation than our industry associations had prescribed before the pandemic. Travel, especially international travel, has long been a focus of containment when new or rare diseases in faraway lands surface, yet almost all the safeguards have been abandoned as the perceived cost of containment has been too high a price to pay.

A Wildfire Waiting to Happen

Many experts agree that a major surge is upon us, with worry growing for this coming fall and winter. The most contagious variants yet are here and scientists again are warning that the worst is yet to come.

That level of concern has already shown itself from our neighbors to the north. The Canadian government is mandating international travelers coming into the country again be tested, albeit on a random basis.

This is an anemic reaction, at best. Every single factor currently playing out is leading us to what could be another damaging surge, economically, emotionally, physically, and environmentally. Mask mandates were tossed by the courts and international travelers into the U.S. are no longer being tested. While the CDC still recommends masks, it’s increasingly clear the general populace is psychologically “done” with this pandemic and is much less concerned about the risk it poses.

The situation, as it portends the future of the travel industry, is a wildfire waiting to happen.

While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does provide guidance to airlines regarding cabin air quality, the cleanest cabin air breathed in by passengers isn’t always available. Until the engine is running and the HEPA filters are working, which typically does not happen until after the airplane is boarded and the cabin door is closed, there is more than enough time in the cramped aircraft for pathogens to spread around among passengers. Additionally, this accounts for only a fraction of the overall air travel process. From checking in at the ticket counter, to security checkpoints, eating at the food court, going to the restroom, to the gate, the boarding and un-boarding process and getting your baggage, there are several gaps that provide more than ample opportunity for transmission and infection.

Another storm is brewing and travel stands to again be interrupted, at the same time compounding the problem, fueling the spread.

The Best Technology Available

While all of this sounds, and arguably is dire, there are near-term options to tame whatever does befall America and the rest of the world in the coming months, which also happen to likely be the solutions for long-term stability. These come in the form of some of the same UV technologies used to reduce dangerous pathogens in our medical facilities and municipal water. But instead of focusing on disinfecting surfaces or liquids, we can start focusing on the air that we share.

How is ventilation achieved in our public transportation infrastructure and how much do we need?

Among the most basic options, though not available for aircraft or most airports, train or bus terminals, is opening windows and relying on the wind alone. Even if you could open the windows, relying on the wind and weather may not be considered a best health practice. Mechanical solutions, such as a window fan (again, not an option for most commercial travel applications), or standalone HEPA filters, can be helpful but are flow limited, noisy, and fell short in CDC testing. HVAC systems, touted by some as a solution that can improve indoor air quality, are largely unhelpful in mitigating Covid transmission. While necessary, HVAC systems are designed for comfort and minimum CO2 removal. Getting more ventilation out of these mechanical fan-based systems can use more than 300 times more energy than using ultraviolet (UV) light and drive the cost of ownership up more than 20 times.

The original Alpha strain of Covid had a basic reproduction rate, or R0, of 3.3, which means that every person infected might be expected to infect 3.3 other people. Subsequent variants of Covid, however, have gotten more infectious with the Delta variant reaching an R0 of 7 and the latest Omicron BA.5 variant surpassing measles as the most infectious variant known to mankind with an R0 of over 18. The increasingly infectious variants require greater levels of ventilation to minimize transmission. Assuming the CDC’s original guidance was appropriate, with the current variants, we should be striving to achieve ventilation rates of 10 times or more that which we currently have in our spaces. It is simply not practical or economical to do that with mechanical systems.

Germicidal UV is tried and true, with more than 80 years of effective use. Among newer forms of GUV, Far UV stands as one of the most sought-after options today, utilizing a wavelength of 222nm. Why does this matter? At this wavelength, UV does not harm the skin or eyes, meaning that Far UV is the most effective and safest option on the market today. Perhaps as, if not more important, it is inexpensive, quick to deploy and doesn’t require any action or compliance among occupants for it to work.

Safety is the Highest Priority

From the start of the pandemic, travel has played a role in the spread of Covid-19, fanning the flames of the very fire that has caused so much damage to the industry. That alone should have been more than enough reason to take measures to make pandemic-era air travel safer.

Airlines were hit hard in 2020, losing an estimated $168B that year alone. Overall, the ongoing impact is on the brink of wiping clean nine whole years of historic profits. With all that money lost, it’s hard to fathom an industry no better prepared than it was in January of 2020. Yet, here we are, staring into the face of yet another major surge, with little to no long-term solutions having been widely adopted.

Travel may be returning to where it was in 2019 and early 2020, but the burdensome and damaging cycle looks to be on the verge of repeating itself. Where do we go from here and why are we not better prepared? It’s a challenging question to answer, but this is an absolute: The cost of doing nothing is far more expensive or costly than any reason that might exist.

The cost of the travel industry widely adopting solutions like Far UV would pay for itself in no time, increasing passenger and employee safety and confidence at a time when it is needed most.

Editor’s Note: PJ Piper is the Founder, CEO and Chairman of Far UV Technologies, whose Krypton Far UV disinfection lighting is being adopted around the world as an important tool to target microorganisms, improving indoor air quality.

Piper is an accomplished entrepreneur, board member, and investment banker with over 25 years of experience in Health and Hygiene, Clean Tech, Autonomous Vehicles, AgTech, E-commerce, FinTech, and Artificial Intelligence.

Mr. Piper has also contributed to our sister publication, Medical Device News Magazine.

 

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