Boeing has developed a new attempt to tackle a basic fear for flying germophobes: airliner lavatories that turn into virtual petri dishes during long-range trips.
The US planemaker says its engineers and designers have created self-cleaning toilets that use ultraviolet light to kill 99.99 per cent of germs, disinfecting all surfaces after every use in just three seconds.
"We're trying to alleviate the anxiety we all face when using a restroom that gets a workout during a flight," Jeanne Yu, director of environmental performance for Boeing's commercial airplanes division, said in a statement.
The concept offers a new twist on the old aviator saying, "If it ain't Boeing, I ain't going," aviation consultant Robert Mann said by e-mail. "Boeing should ground-test these in big-city public facilities to develop some street cred," he said.
A spokesman for rival Airbus Group didn't immediately comment on Boeing's announcement.
The lavatory prototype uses a type of ultraviolet light, different from the rays in tanning beds, that doesn't harm humans. Activated only when the airliner toilet isn't in use, the lights flood touch surfaces such as the toilet seat, sink and counter top.
Boeing has filed a patent for the concept, which it says can minimize the growth and potential transmission of micro-organisms. The sanitizing even helps rid a lavatory of odors.
Better yet, it would be touchless. The cleaning system would lift and close the toilet seat by itself so that all surfaces are exposed during the cleaning cycle, according to Boeing.
Other perks for those worried about germs: hands-free faucet, soap dispense, trash flap, lid and hand dryer. The planemaker is also studying a hands-free door latch and vacuum vent system for floor spillage.
The concept is a finalist for a Crystal Cabin Award that will be announced at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany on April 5.
The potential benefits aren't just in the bathroom. The self-cleaning concept could also help airlines save money on costly repairs, Mann said.
Toilets "are notoriously difficult to keep maintained to high standards, which shows up as odors that cannot be controlled and eventually, corrosion to structures adjoining the lav module," such as floor beams and fuselage, Mann said. "It really would be a maintenance cost savings, too."