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Efficiency: Disinfecting your airplaneEfficiency: Disinfecting your airplane

Experts explain the correct way to clean avionics, instrument panels, and personal devices

GA is not immune to the effects of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that prompted the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and which continues to challenge us nearly one year later.
P&E February 2021
Photography by David Tulis

Dr. Brent Blue, an AOPA Pilot magazine contributor (see his new column, “Flight MD,” on page 24), FAA senior aviation medical examiner, and airline transport pilot with more than 9,000 hours of flight time, offered several measures to help keep pilots and passengers safe in general aviation aircraft.

Blue said if pilots “are sick for any reason, they need to do a self-analysis of their readiness to fly.” AOPA offers a free Medical Self-Assessment online course to help pilots better understand how to assess their fitness for flight (

He also suggested that if a pilot transports a person “who is sick or becomes sick shortly after a flight,” it’s important to wipe down the aircraft’s interior surfaces, “including headsets and mics. If they have a foam mic cover, it should be taken off the mic and rinsed in a 10-percent Clorox solution and dried thoroughly before reinstalling.” He also reminded pilots to clean the underlying microphone with a disinfectant wipe, and any touch screens, as well.

Blue said to be mindful that altitude can adversely affect sick people. He said to thoroughly clean or discard oxygen masks or cannulas if a sick person used one of the devices, because “the virus is attracted to lung tissue.”

Garmin published a service advisory that informs pilots how to clean and disinfect touch screens and function knobs on panel-mounted avionics, with specific guidance about reducing the spread of disease while preserving the integrity of the avionics devices.Garmin’s Joey Ferreyra, who helped outfit avionics for the 2019 AOPA Sweepstakes Super Cub, said “using the wrong cleaner can be bad news for avionics.” The company published a service advisory that informs pilots how to clean and disinfect touch screens and function knobs on panel-mounted avionics, with specific guidance about reducing the spread of disease while preserving the integrity of the avionics devices.

To begin with, aircraft owners and pilots should use a lint-free cloth instead of paper products—which can mar surface displays—and a cleaner that is specified “safe for anti-reflective coatings.”

Garmin and other avionics companies advise pilots to avoid ammonia-based cleaners because the chemical will harm the anti-reflective coatings on aviation display screens. The G1000 series has a special anti-reflective coating found on many other Garmin products that is “very sensitive to skin oils, waxes, and abrasive cleaners. Cleaners containing ammonia will harm the anti-reflective coating,” the company said.

Disinfecting solutions of 70-percent isopropyl alcohol are acceptable and provide the “best combination of bactericidal effectiveness and equipment safety,” as long as they don’t contain ammonia. The surface must remain wet for at least 30 seconds, Garmin said.

Other exposed surfaces like knobs, buttons, and bezels can be cleaned with a damp cloth moistened with soap and water, but pilots should remove the soap or soap residue to prevent buttons and knobs from gumming up or becoming slippery. The company reminded pilots that “many aviation products are not rated as waterproof. Spraying or wetting the units to the extent where moisture could go beyond the exterior surfaces could damage the unit.” Garmin does not recommend bleach-based cleaners or other harsh chemicals.

Some panel-mounted touch-screen avionics have a special screen-cleaning function button that temporarily disables touch-screen operation so pilots can remove fingerprint smudges. A video provides additional guidance for the Garmin GTN series of avionics.

Pilots can start by creating a space in their flight bags or luggage to locate protective and cleaning gear quickly.Aircraft and portable devices also require attention. Aviators who are not grounded by local stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic can come in contact with germs on fuel pumps, point-of-sale touch pads, and pilot lounge computers.

MyGoFlight’s Dominic “Nic” Martinez suggested pilots adhere to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisories and add a “common-sense approach to helping to protect ourselves, coworkers, friends, and family.”

He said pilots could start by creating a space in their flight bags or luggage to locate protective and cleaning gear quickly. Travel-size liquid disinfectants are handy when water is unavailable, Martinez said. “You will want to use them often, and prior to entering the cockpit.” He advised pilots to “wipe down all surface areas with a disinfecting cleaner like Clorox wipes prior to and just after entering the cockpit and spend particular attention to areas you will touch often.”

Tablets, phones, and avionics mounts also should be cleaned prior to handling. Martinez said travel-sized disinfectant wipes for this purpose are convenient, effective, and easy to dispose of, but “don’t forget to bring a trash bag to dispose of the wipes you may have used in flight.” Many portable devices have special chemical-resistant glass over their touch-screen displays, and come with similar precautions to avoid ammonia-based cleaners that can damage their surfaces.

MyGoFlight sells a line of protective ArmorGlas products for electronic flight bags and tablets that contain an oleophobic layer that reduces oils and grime, and adds anti-glare protection for improved visibility.

Martinez said it is safe to use a mild dish detergent on silicone components, including suction cups for handheld avionics and point-of-view cameras. They can be cleaned and then dried with a soft cloth. “UV light is very aggressive on the silicone, so you don’t want to leave it out in the sun,” Martinez noted. He recommended storing interior mounts out of sunlight to preserve their integrity.

He said face masks, protective eyewear, and disposable gloves can be effective when pilots are required to sit in close quarters with other pilots or when they are carrying passengers. Martinez cautioned everyone to help “pilots, families, and crews stay safe and stay healthy” during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

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David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-winning AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft and photography.

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