The Trump administration on Monday gave American Airlines emergency approval to deploy a new weapon against covid-19: a surface coating that kills coronaviruses for as many as seven days.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued the emergency declaration for Allied BioScience Inc.’s SurfaceWise2 product, allowing it to be used in some American Airlines planes and airport facilities, as well as two Texas locations of Total Orthopedics Sports & Spine. All three companies are based in Texas, which sought the exemption.
“This is a major, game-changing announcement for our efforts to combat coronavirus and covid-19,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told reporters on a conference call. “This is a groundbreaking step that is expected to provide a longer-lasting protection in public spaces, increasing consumer confidence in resuming normal air travel and other activities.”
The move comes as the Trump administration seeks to propel emerging treatments and protections against the coronavirus, and as several companies race to deliver an effective, safe vaccine. On Sunday, President Donald Trump announced the administration was authorizing the use of a blood-plasma treatment for covid-19.
The emergency approval could help restore public confidence in flying amid the coronavirus pandemic. Airlines have used a variety of products and measures to clean aircraft and help convince consumers it’s safe to fly, but the industry is still suffering from the demand collapse that began in April as covid-19 spread and governments imposed travel restrictions. Air traffic remains less than 30% of where it was a year ago, based on passenger screenings by the Transportation Security Administration at U.S. airports.
The EPA issued the emergency exemption to Texas under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Wheeler said he expects other states to seek their own exemptions, potentially opening up the product’s use in other airlines, schools and other facilities. Allied BioScience is already pursuing a broader EPA approval to allow widespread use of the disinfectant.
SurfaceWise2 works by binding to surfaces and continuing to kill the viruses and bacteria that land on it, including the virus that causes covid-19, said Maha El-Sayed, chief science officer for Allied BioScience.
American Airlines will swiftly begin electrostatically spraying the product across its fleet, including, eventually its regional aircraft, though it is limited to applying the disinfectant in the state of Texas under the current EPA authorization.
Chief Operating Officer David Seymour said American Airlines needs to spray more than 1,000 aircraft — including some planes that don’t typically stop in the state. As a result, the company plans to work with other states to seek emergency exemptions allowing SurfaceWise2’s use within their borders, he said.
“What we really like about SurfaceWise is it provides a continuous protection versus most electrostatic products that provide momentary cleaning,” Seymour said.
The EPA’s exemptions can only be offered in response to applications from states and other federal agencies, Wheeler said. And for now, as the EPA hasn’t granted a blanket authorization, the agency needs to vet proposed uses on a surface-by-surface basis.