Grounded Airliners Could Provide Hope for COVID-19

A coalition of professionals from the medical, advanced nursing, hyperbarics, military, aviation, and business fields have developed a plan to use large commercial and military aircraft as hyperbaric treatment facilities for use in the mass casualty treatment of those affected by COVID-19 respiratory crisis.

Current therapies are insufficient at overcoming the deadly hypoxemia (low oxygen) caused by the Novel Coronavirus. While many carriers are asymptomatic or only have minor symptoms, severely affected people require hospitalization. Currently, emergency treatment for the profound oxygen deprivation of COVID-19 respiratory crisis includes the use of mechanical ventilators, which has a mortality rate as high as 80 percent.

In response to the difficulties found in treating the virus, the group has suggested Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) as a non-invasive and effective way to help patients maintain their oxygen levels so that the difficult and oftentimes damaging mechanical ventilation is not required. HBOT has already been shown, in US hospitals and elsewhere, to be a successful treatment for the virus. While purpose-built hyperbaric chambers should be used to their maximum capacity for this treatment, they are limited in availability relative to the anticipated number of COVID-19 patients. Fortunately, aircraft can be utilized as hyperbaric chambers and are currently readily available.

The Aviation Industry has seen a 95 percent reduction in air travel leading to the grounding of almost two-thirds of the world’s passenger aircraft. Through the adaptation of aircraft around the world, many of which currently sit idle, into hyperbaric chambers, the coalition says HBOT can be delivered to any community that needs it.

The fuselage of a commercial airplane is designed to sustain the pressures of up to 9 psi in order to compensate for reduced air pressure and oxygen at high flight altitudes. Therapeutic pressures of 1.5 – 1.6 ATA (7.34 or 8.81 added psi) are safe and achievable on the ground and are well within safe structural tolerance.

These passenger aircraft deployed to regional and executive airports would provide easy access for EMS transport to and from local hospitals. Remote hospitals could be established for patient support during HBOT treatment periods. These aircraft could mobilize and treat hundreds if not thousands of patients per day in the regions with greatest need.

Contact for more information.

By Sarah Spangler