The Trump administration on Monday gave American Airlines Group Inc. 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 (EPA) 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. (Related story: FDA head walks back claim of dramatic benefit from COVID therapy)
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 US airports.
Airline shares extended gains after the EPA conference call on the product approval amid a broad rally in travel stocks tied to optimism about possible treatments and vaccines for coronavirus. A Standard & Poor’s 500 index of the five largest US carriers rose 7.8% at 3:27 p.m. in New York, led by a nearly 11% jump at American.
The EPA issued the emergency exemption to Texas under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Mr. 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 plans to use the anti-viral spray to supplement its existing regimen—with cleaning and disinfecting coming before the SurfaceWise2 application, Chief Operating Officer David Seymour said in an interview. The product, which won’t be applied sooner than every seven days, will be sprayed throughout aircraft, except in cockpits crammed with sensitive electronics.
It will take time for American Airlines to deploy the product in more than 1,400 planes, including regional aircraft. Under the current EPA authorization, the carrier is initially limited to applying the disinfectant in the state of Texas, and some of its planes don’t typically stop in the state.
The company is pursuing approvals for SurfaceWise2’s use in 10 to 12 other states, Mr. Seymour said. Allied and American also are seeking a certification that the product lasts longer than seven days, buttressed by an Allied BioScience machine that allows the company to detect where the spray is still killing viruses.
“What we really like about SurfaceWise is it provides a continuous protection versus most electrostatic products that provide momentary cleaning,” Mr. Seymour said.
The EPA’s exemptions can only be offered in response to applications from states and other federal agencies, Mr. 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. — Bloomberg