United Airlines to apply antimicrobial spray to aircraft interiors via robot

'NovaRover' robots will apply it in a 'super fine mist'

United Airlines is adding yet another step to its cleaning routine — and it’s being carried out by a robot.

On Wednesday, the carrier announced that it would be coating the surfaces of its aircraft with an EPA-registered antimicrobial coating, to be applied in a “super fine mist” by a robotic device called a “NovaRover.”

United plans to deploy the NovaRovers at 10 airports, including all seven of its hubs.

United plans to deploy the NovaRovers at 10 airports, including all seven of its hubs. (United Airlines)

"This long-lasting, antimicrobial spray adds an extra level of protection on our aircraft to help better protect our employees and customers," said Toby Enqvist, United's chief customer officer, in a press release issued this week. "As part of our layered approach to safety, antimicrobials are an effective complement to our hospital-grade HEPA air filtration system, mandatory mask policy for customers and daily electrostatic spraying.

“We've overhauled our policies and procedures and continue to implement new, innovative solutions that deliver a safer onboard experience."

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The new antimicrobial coating, known as the Zoono Microbe Shield, was developed by a New Zealand company called Zoono Group Limited. According to United’s press release, a chemical used in the coating forms a protective layer (likened to “microscopic pins”) once it dries to surfaces, and this layer is able to rupture the cell walls of microbes.

The coating will be applied by the NovaRovers after deep cleanings, and then weekly thereafter with electrostatic sprayers. Electrostatic disinfectant will continue to be applied “before almost every departure.”

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United has already begun to use its antimicrobial coating on more than 30 aircraft at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, with plans to expand the program to its entire mainline and express fleets before the end of 2020, at the approximately 200 airports where United operates.

Following deep cleanings, the NovaRovers will mist the "seats, tray tables, armrests, overhead bins, lavatories and crew stations" with the antimicrobial coating.

Following deep cleanings, the NovaRovers will mist the "seats, tray tables, armrests, overhead bins, lavatories and crew stations" with the antimicrobial coating. (United Airlines)

The NovaRover robots, meanwhile, which are produced by an Illinois company named MicroSonic Solutions, will be deployed at 10 airports.

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The antimicrobial spray is the latest effort in the airline's CleanPlus initiative, which already includes disinfection of high-touch areas, electrostatic disinfection between flights, and the use of HEPA filters on all flights, along with several other initiatives.