Research Projects

Stay Calm and Breathe: Creating a Hygienic Culture for Airports In Reserve

As the airline industry struggles to return to normal operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, airport operators must take steps to restore confidence in commercial aviation by reassuring the flying public that they are returning to a clean and safe environment. Operators must focus on improving sanitary conditions and indoor air quality (IAQ) within the terminals, where the high volume of people and activities such as food preparation were already known to produce significant contamination. Further, airports must develop messaging and communication strategies to make the public aware of their enhanced sanitation efforts to help restore customer confidence in commercial aviation. The goal is to foster meaningful and sustainable change by building a "hygienic culture" within airports, which takes an organization-wide approach to proactively managing health and sanitation issues.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

At the time of this submission, the COVID-19 pandemic seriously threatens the economic stability of the entire aviation industry. Community lockdowns, travel restrictions, and general concern about the risk of airborne pathogens in enclosed aircraft cabins have led to drastic reductions in the numbers of passengers and flights. At present, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) estimates that for the entire year of 2020, there will be a reduction of 32% to 59% of seats offered by airlines, globally. The ICAO also anticipates that the world total of airline passengers will decline 35% to 65% during the same period.

Even before our current pandemic, airport terminals were "regarded as possible hotspots" where "IAQ is a crucial element for passengers and staff protection, as well as a key aspect of airport passenger experience." Now, as the airline industry struggles to return to normal operations, efforts must be made to reassure the public that they are returning to a clean, healthy environment.

While air carriers implement strategies and messaging to reduce health risks and restore the confidence of their customers, airport operators must also focus on improving sanitary conditions and air quality within the terminals. Further, airports must develop their own communication strategies to make the flying public aware of these efforts to renew their confidence in commercial aviation.

Most importantly, for these efforts to have meaningful and sustainable impact, airport operators should take measures to adopt a "hygienic culture" within their organizations. Like the concept of a "safety culture," organizations should promote shared responsibility for maintaining a healthy, sanitary environment as a core value. This will require development and adoption of a multifaceted change management plan to overcome resistance and cultivate changes in attitude and behavior.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The objective is to foster healthier airport environments with a focus on renewing customer confidence in commercial aviation through research, training, and strategic communication as components of an overall change management initiative. The outcome should be a ternary framework for promoting an organization-wide "hygienic culture" built upon (1) recommendations and best practices for improving sanitary conditions and air quality in airport terminals; (2) a workforce training program to implement recommended sanitation policies and procedures and foster cultural change; and (3) strategic communications to message the organization's commitment to a healthy airport environment to its workforce and the flying public.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)


• Part 1 – Conduct a literature review to identify legal requirements, best practices, and innovations for monitoring and improving sanitation and IAQ in transportation hubs and other large public spaces.

• Part 2 – Identify impacted stakeholders and audiences and determine their interests and needs as they relate to maintaining sanitary airport facilities.

• Part 3 – Review airport operations to identify challenges, pitfalls, and gaps in processes for maintaining healthy indoor environments.

• Part 4 – Conduct interviews with airport stakeholders and leaders to identify organizational challenges for maintaining healthy indoor environments and potential obstacles for implementing meaningful change.

• Part 5 – Identify metrics for measuring the success of change management initiatives, communication, and training programs (e.g., monitoring cleanliness, passenger surveys, employee surveys).

Change Management:

• Part 1 - Develop recommendations for improving sanitary conditions and indoor air quality of airport terminals based on literature review and observations of airport operations.

• Part 2 – Develop a change management plan to serve as a roadmap for developing a hygienic culture that includes training, coaching, and practical application of revised policies and procedures.

• Part 3 – Design training programs to help the workforce implement proposed changes to sanitation procedures and buy into the hygienic culture.

Strategic Communication:

• Internal – Develop an internal communication plan for promoting the hygienic culture and ensuring public health as one of the organization's core values.

• External – Develop public-facing messaging and marketing to promote the healthy airport environment to the public.

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

The estimated funding for this project is $450,000. The estimated time to complete this work is two years. This is estimate is based on a similarly scoped change management and communication initiatives over a similar period. This number estimates $200,000 for research, $150,000 for change management, and $100,000 for strategic communication planning.

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

Zanni, Sara et al. "Indoor Air Quality Real-Time Monitoring in Airport Terminal Areas: An Opportunity for Sustainable Management of Micro-Climatic Parameters." Sensors (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 18,11 3798. 6 Nov. 2018, doi:10.3390/s18113798

Economic Development, International Civil Aviation Organization, 14 May 2020, "Economic Impacts of Covid-19 on Civil Aviation,"

Idea No. 478