By Tony Abate, CTO, AtmosAir
The convenience and ease of air travel has made flying more popular than ever before and means that today’s airports are active, bustling places that often resemble a city within a city.
The rise in demand ensures that we are seeing record numbers of people passing through the world’s airports every day, with many arriving earlier and spending more time at the airport than in the past due to a combination of airline and security requirements. To this end many airports have given a lot of attention to the customer experience.
Additionally, while some cities and states are loosening or doing away with mask regulations and restrictions in restaurants and businesses, there are rules still in place for airports. However, new technology, and innovative leaders in the sector are supporting traveler health and safety by implementing new systems that can effectively reduce pollutants and viruses in the air, and help to give peace of mind to those about to hop on a flight.
Airports now also offer a host of shopping and dining choices and leisure activities like massages and entertainment areas, while airlines have their own airline lounges/clubs that can be a popular destination for business travelers and meetings. However, in order to capitalize on airports as entertainment and retail venues in addition to operating as transport hubs, the air we breathe indoors has become all the more important. Indoor air can be two to five times worse than the air we breathe outside, and airports are no exception to the rule.
Indeed, the size of airport terminals means that they inevitably require powerful heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to maintain a comfortable environment for visitors, and sometimes can exacerbate air quality issues, such as contributing to odor in the air and other downsides.
The presence of large numbers of people in airports also contributes to this. Human skin produces dust and particles, and in addition to the body’s production of ammonia and other bioeffluents, as well as our capacity to carry and spread bacteria, viruses and germs, the need for clean IAQ in light of COVID is all the more important. Also, travelers often have weakened immune systems following their flights, and in turn are more susceptible to illness from unclean and unhealthy air. From a purely personal point of view, surely someone who gets sick or irritated from a visit to the airport won’t report a positive customer experience?
For these many reasons, addressing and improving indoor air quality is a key factor in an airport. Most airports use enhanced filtration to catch and grab contaminants that can be delivered by the air system. Airports will typically enhance ventilation and turn the air over with new air more times than in a typical home or office. Some airports have incorporated ultraviolet systems to help to sterilize parts of the HVAC system to improve the air quality delivered by them.
While very progressive gateways like Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) use multiple strategies and incorporate active air cleaning, using bi-polar air ionization. Systems installed in the HVAC systems across LAX’s terminals allow air ions to be delivered into the airport terminals and concourses. These ions reduce particles, break down volatile organic compounds and odors, and sanitize the indoor air to reduce bacteria, viruses and germs.
LAX has hundreds of these systems installed throughout their HVAC systems and more operating on a regular basis as they add or renovate spaces and HVAC systems. And, incredibly, they have measured air ions in the terminals at levels only found in nature. Other airports like Chicago’s O’Hare, Fort Lauderdale International and Tokyo Narita have also adopted the bi-polar ion technology.
Now is the time for other airports to follow suit, as addressing the air quality in terminal buildings and enhancing the airport experience while maintaining public health and safety becomes of paramount importance in 2022.
Tony Abate is vice president and chief technical officer of AtmosAir Solutions – www.atmosair.com – which provides clean indoor air technology to Los Angeles International Airport and commercial office buildings across the United States.