Featured image: Avia Solutions Group

Innovations in Eco-Friendly Aircraft Cleaning

DALLAS — Aircraft are responsible for some of Earth’s most toxic and harmful emissions. Commercial aviators, researchers and environmental advocates push for decarbonizing and removing pollutants using eco-friendly aircraft cleaning techniques.

These techniques will save resources and eliminate toxic substances from age-old cleaning routines, improving a greener generation of commercial flights.

Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

How Experts Clean Aircraft

Only 2.5% of global emissions are related to aircraft activities — however, this is a startling contribution given most of the world’s population does not fly. Analysts suspect this number could rise as income increases, making flying accessible to more demographics. The adverse impacts of aircraft on the climate are significant enough, and how professionals clean them does not absolve their reputation. 

Airline cleaning crews engage in a lot of manual work, which is water-intensive and waste-producing. Workers take care of the cabin using disinfectant in high-touch and food-prep areas. Avoiding chemical sprays is required to reduce pollutant production. These solutions contribute to 6.7 million early deaths, exacerbated by excessive ambient and indoor air contamination. As such, many airlines opt for biodegradable alternatives to reduce risk.

Exterior cleaning involves wet and dry washes alongside polishing. The staff must focus on atmospheric particles, pollutants and even bird droppings, which is usually done by hand. Some machines help the process, but airlines do not always employ them.

Photo: Air India

What Sustainable Innovations Are Out

Renewing airplane cleaning protocols requires a comprehensive rewrite. Multidisciplinary insights from industries like eco-engineering, climate science and data analytics are crucial for designing a long-term plan for sustainable commercial aviation operations.

Experts must analyze efficiency and sustainability from the outside and inside while acknowledging the influences communications and peripheral technologies have on carbon footprints. What are some recent groundbreaking ideas in the sector?

External Cleaners

Air India launched a novel cleaning technology to save 75,000 liters of water yearly per widebody aircraft and 30,000 for narrowbody machines. The equipment is called Aerowash, and it contains robotic microfiber brush drums designed to be effective without water. 

The airline explained how it would boost its sustainability objectives while saving money and labor on time-consuming manual-focused cleaning strategies. The integration is a seamless and eco-conscious way to alter the sector’s cleaning routines while improving flight performance and aerodynamics. Additionally, it reinforces the necessity of automation in every industry.

Interior Comms

Innovative washing machinery is essential, but communications technologies amplify sustainable cleaning, too. AMB Airlines has used handheld devices for years, delivering critical staff information about the next job. This expedites completion while preparing workers with the tools they need beforehand to save resources. 

For example, an incoming flight that will turn around and return to the air needs a quick bathroom check rather than a deep clean of the plane’s inner mechanisms. This allows people to dedicate time to safety requirements instead of using excess water and chemicals reserved for overnight cleanings.

Photo: Chris Goulet/Airways

Coating Cleaners

Alterations to cleaning procedures will also influence the industry's coatings. They enhance planes' sustainability by adding another layer of protection from the elements. However, eco-friendly shifts in cleaning must work effectively when tending to new coating materials. Otherwise, planes may not receive adequate care, and cleaning products may negatively affect coating performance.

Engines could receive a ceramic layer to withstand high temperatures, and fuselages may have chrome or polyurethanes. Even tray tables have polymers to resist bacteria and viruses. Eco-friendly cleaners use water-based solutions instead of chemicals to minimize harshness. Aqueous solutions eliminate volatile organic compounds and are versatile and compatible with sprays or immersion washers.

Attentive exterior washing could extend the life spans of paint by two to three years, saving anywhere between 70 and 950 gallons of wasted paint — all from sustainable cleaning goals.

Solar-Powered Equipment for Cleaning

How sustainable can airplane cleaning be if it requires energy-intensive, heavy equipment? Some companies are employing renewable energy, like solar, to energize cleaning tech. 

Washing the plane’s body may require ground support equipment (GSE), loaders and tows for hauling necessities. The GSE market could reach a valuation of $8.45 billion by 2031, driven by solar and electrification advancements and a desire to make all cleaning, cargo and aviation equipment emissions-free. 

Upcycling Parts

Cleaning an aircraft also includes responsible disposal of upgraded and repaired parts. Have employees genuinely cleaned the plane if packing materials and faulty equipment get strewn on the runway? Innovations in plane upcycling are making it easier for crews to keep repair centers and landfills clear of e-waste. Some parts are transformed into modern furniture, housewares, holiday ornaments and even accommodations.

Photo: Jumbo Stay Hostel

Why Are Changes Necessary

Planes receiving inadequate cleaning collect dust and grime on the wings, eventually eroding the aircraft’s most critical components. It is a dangerous and wasteful side effect. Constant reactive maintenance to faulty and damaged parts yields mechanical waste destined for landfills. 

Airplanes thousands of feet in the air with corroded parts also release pollutants with vast coverage. Rust and metals spread throughout the air worldwide in the blink of an eye. Extending airplane life spans is one of the most prominent advantages of modern cleaning tools. If the plane flies longer, then the life cycle assessment of the unit is significantly greener.

Though a few layers of dust on the tarmac are invisible to the human eye, the particulates may drastically influence drag and weight. Because of the accumulation, a flight may unexpectedly use more fuel. Therefore, enhancing cleaning technologies lowers fossil fuel emissions and reliance.

Finally, changes are necessary because creating a sustainable flight means applying green mindsets to each plane facet.  Many focus on eco-friendly fuels, but the efforts to fix climate influences are overshadowed by a failure to tend to other harmful oversights. 

Changing to LED lighting and advancing hangar designs will consciously forge a more durable plane using materials. However, it will not compensate for the pollution and waste cleaning created unless this department continues innovating.

Photo: Solidus Industries

Flying Without a Footprint

Eco-friendly commercial airline cleaning is more than switching to biodegradable sprays. Making the process green from all perspectives requires compatible coatings, machines powered by clean electricity, and waste-free, efficient workflows.

These innovations will minimize pollutants major airlines emit in the coming years as they seek even more sustainable objectives, like green fuels and optimized routes.

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