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"Air Curtain" Blocks Unwanted Insect Pests From Airplanes

By Jim Core
March 9, 2004

A system developed by Agricultural Research Service scientists uses a "curtain of air" to prevent disease-carrying insects from boarding airplanes.

Researchers at the ARS Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology in Gainesville, Fla., developed a method for using high-velocity "air curtains" in passenger walkways to provide a barrier against these problem insects. Passenger walkways are the bridgelike structures that passengers enter to board the airplane from the gate.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) sponsored a pilot study of the curtain system with ARS scientists in Gainesville. Results of the study show that air curtains can exclude 99 percent of flying insects (mosquitoes and flies), according to Robert K. Vander Meer, acting research leader of the ARS Mosquito and Fly Research Unit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, DOT and several other government agencies demonstrated the system today at Miami International Airport. ARS is USDA's chief scientific research agency.

The estimated cost of the two vertically mounted air curtains is about $3,000. The system provides a safer alternative to insecticidal methods currently used.

Certain countries--including India, Australia, Jamaica, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago--require airlines to ensure that aircraft are insect-free before passengers get off the plane. The countries want to prevent mosquitoes, flies and other insects that may spread diseases, such as malaria and West Nile virus, from crossing their borders.

The curtain is made of air blown away from the passenger doors by fans on either side of the walkway, at an air speed of at least 1 meter per second. Insects cannot penetrate the barrier. Companies already manufacture similar air curtains for other purposes, such as blocking heat from entering rooms in commercial establishments.