Pilot's tip of the week

Disinfecting a Modern Cockpit


Subscriber question:

"My flying club still allows solo flight, or trips with other family members, but requires each member to clean the cockpit before and after flight. We just invested in touchscreen avionics, which I don't want to damage. What's the best way to sanitize this equipment?" — Jason R.


“If you’re specifically targeting viruses, your best tools are a lint-free cloth and a bottle of at least 70-percent isopropyl alcohol. This is the kind of alcohol you may have in a bottle in your medicine cabinet, or (hopefully) still find one at a drug store or supermarket. The percentage of alcohol should be listed right on the bottle.

Garmin, Avidyne, and Dynon all publish recommendations for their own equipment, but they essentially agree on the technique. For the displays themselves, get the cloth wet with the alcohol solution and wipe the screen area that people touch. You shouldn’t have so much liquid it runs down the screen as you wipe, but it’s good to see some moisture left behind on the screen.

Leave the screen wet for at least 30 seconds. This detail is overlooked by some and important if you want sanitization. You can let the alcohol solution evaporate off, or you can clean it with a microfiber cloth or avionics screen cleaner like iCloth. Just remember: Sanitize first, then clean. Include your iPad or other portable avionics in your cleaning as well. You can’t infect yourself, but your iPad could be a vector into the cockpit for something that affects others.

For the bezels and knobs, the same isopropyl alcohol and a cloth are still your best friend.  Garmin allows a damp cloth with mild soap and water where practical. Dynon actually recommends it. The key with cleaning the controls is that few avionics are watertight, so don’t let any liquid to get past the knobs or buttons and into the equipment. Again, leave surfaces damp for at least 30 seconds before wiping away any excess.

Never use ammonia or bleach cleaners (like pre-moistened Clorox wipes) on any avionics surface. They can damage the anti-glare and oleophobic coatings on screens and can even remove the painted text on the bezel. In truth, even alcohol can affect oleophobic coatings, but there’s not much you can do there. Don’t use paper towels on any glass surface as it can leave tiny scratches.

As for the rest of the cockpit, wiping with isopropyl alcohol or a solution of 10-percent Clorox in water will disinfect other surfaces such as the flight controls, power quadrant, etc. The same caveat applies about not getting water inside items—like the push-to-talk switch on the yoke—and letting surfaces stay damp for at least 30 seconds before wiping away any excess. It might help to go through your start and runup checklists to see all the items you touch … it’s amazing how many things there are.

Don’t forget about your headset, and especially the mic which its right at your lips. Consider leaving it in the bag until it can go straight to your head. Wiping it down before and after use isn’t a bad idea, either. Likewise with oxygen masks or cannulas.”

Are you flying during this period of social distancing?

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