The recent abolition of the ‘mask mandate’ on most major airlines has left many passengers anxious about flying – particularly with summer coming up, and all those rescheduled trips looming. It’s easy to see why anxiety levels are high, but Pexco Aerospace has recently announced the acquisition of the AirShield. Following two years of work to take the product from concept to manufacturing, it’s set to radically enhance the inflight experience.
So, what is AirShield?
AirShield is, in short, the world’s first ‘air curtain’ technology for planes. It creates protective zones around each passenger to stop unwanted germs and smells from entering their personal space. The technology has been proven to speed up the air refresh rate in the cabin by more than 200%, as well as offering a 76% reduction¹ in shared air particles between neighbouring passengers in a full cabin. In addition to these figures, a whopping 89% of passengers² said they would feel more comfortable flying post-pandemic if they flew on a plane with AirShield installed!
AirShield works as an installation over the top of existing passenger air vents – making it easy to adopt into existing fleets. It works side by side with the aircraft’s existing HEPA filtration system to personalise airflow and redirect purified air both around and in between each passenger to create a protective air barrier. This has the effect of creating uniform airflow throughout the cabin, thereby minimising the sharing of exhaled air and increasing the rate at which spent air is removed and replaced.
Perhaps most crucially, because Pexco’s AirShield does not impede passengers entering or exiting from their seats and is not located in the head-strike zone, there is no need for expensive seat re-certification processes – meaning AirShield has the potential to be installed and ready to enhance the inflight experience for passengers around the world this year.
Jon Page, CEO of Pexco Aerospace, tells us that when Coronavirus hit headlines at the tail end of 2019, the AirShield was already in the works.
“We started to design (an air curtain) on the sides of the plane, (some of which) we patented,” Page explains. “In the process of this, we found out about the AirShield.”
Page and his team met with Teague, the Seattle-based design company responsible for the original AirShield concept. They found that, although more commercially viable than Pexco’s own designs, the technology was still – in Page’s words – ‘(only) at the 50-yard line’ and not ready for production. The companies entered into an agreement and now, in 2022, ‘we’re on the goal line’.
On whether or not the pandemic influenced the product or vice-versa, Page posits the pandemic’s timing was just lucky:
“We created the product because we knew something was going to happen, at some point. When COVID hit and airlines couldn’t sell their middle seats, there was a commercial reason to go down this path.”
Since that point, Page says, their testing has shown that their product not only works in harmony with but actually enhances the airlines’ existing HEPA filter technology. He’s marketing the AirShield as a great solution to get people back on planes.
“The airline industry is very regulated (and) there’s not a lot of risk-takers,” he continued. “It’s a ‘follower’ industry, not a ‘leader’ industry. Ten years ago, people asked why you’d need internet on a plane; now, you expect it. (…) We think this will follow a similar path.”
As it stands, when a passenger boards an aircraft, there are no visual clues that the HEPA filters are in working order. That’s one of the biggest selling points of the AirShield, according to Page. With the technology installed, passengers – the airline’s retail customers – will be able to see that something different is afoot.
Rigorous testing has taken place – both computational fluid dynamic and on-wing aboard Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 aircraft, in partnership with several of the world’s leading airlines. In addition to the 200% increase in air refresh rates and 76% reduction in shared air particles, the technology is 50% quieter than standard air vents – further enhancing inflight experience for passengers. Whilst the AirShield reshapes the airflow from the vents, it alters neither the temperature nor volume of air supplied, ensuring passengers can reap all of the benefits.
According to Page, development testing involved the 737 and certification is in progress today for the A320. Once certified, the 737 will be next. The benefits, Page says, are strongest for the single-aisle, narrow-body planes. On wider-bodied planes, he explains, the cabin air system is different. Pexco’s AirShield works as an installation over the aircraft’s existing ventilation system, clipping over the gaspers to drive them more efficiently.
Because it refreshes the air throughout the entire plane twice as quickly, although the AirShield was designed specifically for the cabin, pilots in the cockpit can reap the benefits too.
“What makes AirShield work is that it’s designed to drive air down to that HEPA filter that’s already in existence on the aircraft.”
Asked whether or not the technology could be used on other forms of transportation such as buses or coaches, Page thinks the concept makes sense. The challenge, he explains, is that the interior of those vehicles tend to be much more customised than aircraft, with several manufacturers designing many unique vehicles and systems.
“There are a lot of people flying today but there are a lot of people who haven’t returned,” Page concludes. “That’s the challenge: trying to give people who haven’t returned an understanding that there’s another way to (travel) that makes it even better.”
Pexco’s AirShield is expected to be certified with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by July 2022 and is a finalist in the prestigious Crystal Cabin Awards 2022. Discover more about AirShield here.
Would this technology make you more likely to book a trip? Let us know in the comment section below