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Airports are turning to technology to improve the quality of the air we breathe in airport terminals, writes Tony Abate.

The convenience and ease of air travel has made flying more popular than ever before and means that today’s airports are active, bustling places that often resemble a city within a city.

The rise in demand ensures that we are seeing record numbers of people passing through the world’s airports every day, with many arriving earlier and spending more time at the airport than in the past due to a combination of airline and security requirements.

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To this end many airports have given a lot of attention to the customer experience.

Airports now offer a host of shopping and dining choices and leisure activities like massages and entertainment areas, while airlines have their own airline lounges/clubs that can be a popular destination for business travellers and meetings, etc.

This is all aimed at maximising the customer experience, but there is one aspect in any space that can sometimes be overlooked but is ever present, that is the air we breathe.

In general, the air we breathe indoors can be two to five times worse than the air we breathe outside, and airports are no exception to the rule.

Indeed, the size of airport terminals means that they inevitably require powerful heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to maintain a comfortable environment for visitors, and sometimes they can become the source of the problem, and even cause unpleasant odours, when pollutants get into the air they supply to the terminal.

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People degrade indoor air quality as well. Our skin makes dust and particles, we emit ammonia and other bio-effluents, and we also can carry and spread bacteria, viruses and germs.

Also, tired travellers often have weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to illness from unclean and unhealthy air. From purely a personal point of view, surely someone who gets sick or irritated from a visit to the airport won’t report a positive customer experience?

For these many reasons, addressing and improving indoor air quality is a key factor in an airport. Most airports will use enhanced filtration, to catch and grab contaminants that can be delivered by the air system.

Airports will typically enhance ventilation and turn the air over with new air more times than in a typical home or office. Some airports have incorporated ultraviolet systems to help to sterilise parts of the HVAC system to improve the air quality delivered by them.

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While very progressive gateways like Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) use multiple strategies and incorporate active air cleaning, using bi-polar air ionization.

Systems installed in the HVAC systems across LAX’s terminals allow air ions to be delivered into the airport terminals and concourses.

These ions reduce particles, break down volatile organic compounds and odours, and sanitise the indoor air to reduce bacteria, viruses and germs.

LAX has hundreds of these systems installed throughout their HVAC systems and more going in on a regular basis as they add or renovate spaces and HVAC system. And, incredibly, they have measured an increase in air ions in the terminals to levels found in a pristine area like a mountain range.

Air quality and odour complaints are non-existent. Other airports like Chicago’s O’Hare, Fort Lauderdale International and Tokyo Narita have also adopted the bi-polar ion technology.

Maybe it is time for other airports to follow suit as addressing the air quality in terminal buildings can surely only enhance the airport experience and keep people healthy and looking forward to their next trip?

About the author
Tony Abate is vice president and chief technical officer of AtmosAir Solutions – www.atmosair.com – which provides clean indoor air technology to Los Angeles International Airport and commercial office buildings across the United States.


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