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How to Reduce the Spread of Infectious Diseases on Commercial Airliners?

As millions of people travel worldwide by airlines today, there is a high risk of spreading infectious diseases in congested places such as airplanes and airports. A new research reveals how to reduce the spread of diseases.

boarding

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor Sirish Namilae and his PhD student Pierrot Derjany found out that the way passengers board a plane and the size of the plane could have an impact on their health. Boarding planes in three sections from the front to the back, for example, may pose more of a risk, compared to randomly boarding a plane in two sections.

Derjany, 30, who also has two master’s degrees, including one in aerospace engineering from Embry-Riddle, is honored to be doing this type of research for his PhD. “Human life is priceless,” Derjany said. “I hope it will have an impact and be a breakthrough in the field.”

In September 2014, a man who flew from Liberia to New Jersey was soon found to have Ebola, marking the first case in the U.S. A nurse who cared for him also flew on two commercial flights shortly before she was diagnosed with the deadly virus.

Namilae and Derjany’s research shows changing the way people board planes could reduce the transmission of such viruses. They are also expanding their research to include analyzing pedestrian density and movement in areas such as ticketing and security; boarding at the gate and baggage claim.

Namilae, the primary author on the two initial research papers that included professors from Arizona State University and Florida State University, studied the transmission of Ebola and other viruses using a multiscale, hybrid computer model. By applying mathematical models used in materials science such as molecular dynamics, passenger movement and boarding and deplaning was analyzed around a hypothetical infected passenger along with transmission rates and incubation periods for diseases.

The research found that the standard boarding scenario of passengers boarding a plane in three sections presented a 67 percent chance that more than 20 new air-travel-related infections could occur per month. The findings were based on data from the 2014 Ebola epidemic in Africa.

“Because of this pattern, the passageway is filled with passengers waiting to get to their seats, resulting in clustering,” the report states.

However, using a two-section strategy, which divides the plane into two sections and passengers randomly board, the risk is less because passengers may be in seats that are wider apart from each other which prevents clustering. The probability of 20 new air-travel related infections in this scenario drops to less than 40 percent.

The research found that smaller planes, like 50 seaters, would reduce the infection probability even further because of fewer passengers, a lower number of susceptible individuals within a given area and less time spent moving on the plane.

“These problems have inherent uncertainty, and significant computing capability is needed to address this uncertainty,” Namilae said.

The studies include ensuring that any changes to reduce passenger contact doesn’t disrupt travel or cause an economic impact to airlines.

“We’re trying to find the best strategy so any changes don’t effect turn time, which is the amount of time the airplane spends on the ground loading and unloading passengers and cargo,” Derjany said.





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