Some countries may require aircraft coming from countries where certain insects or insect-borne diseases are present, such as malaria and Zika virus, to be treated with insecticide. Under the Chicago Convention, which governs international civil aviation, a country could impose such a requirement should they perceive a threat to their public health, agriculture or environment. This treatment is referred to as disinsection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence to show that using insecticide to kill mosquitoes inside aircraft cabins is effective in preventing introduction and spread of mosquito-borne diseases. Therefore, the CDC does not recommend using insecticide to kill insects inside commercial aircraft to prevent the spread of Zika. CDC's Technical Statement on the Role of Disinsection of Airplanes or Ships states that an infected person is the most common source for imported mosquito-borne viruses.
In 1996, EPA issued guidance for pesticide registrants stating that the Agency will not register disinsection products for use in aircraft cabins because available data do not demonstrate that the benefits of such use outweigh the potential associated risks and may therefore pose a risk of unreasonable adverse effects to human health and the environment. Products that were registered at the time the 1996 guidance was issued had to amend their labels to comply with the requirements stated in the 1996 guidance or remove uses that would require new data based on that guidance, such as use in aircraft cabins. View Pesticide Registration Notice 96-3: Pesticide Products Used to Disinsect Aircraft.
Currently, there are no EPA-registered disinsection products for use in aircraft cabins. There are products registered to treat the cargo areas of aircraft. Only products registered by EPA may be used in the United States. Any use of a pesticide product must be done strictly according to the label directions and precautions. This means that aircraft cabins cannot be treated while the plane is in the United States including its airspace.
While there are no EPA-registered products for aircraft cabin disinsection, in 2016, EPA issued a special exemption from pesticide registration requirements to the Department of Defense to allow treatment of military aircraft to meet host nation requirements. EPA placed several restrictions on this exemption, including the following requirements to protect crew and passengers:
- These treatments can only be made while the aircraft is unoccupied, at least one hour before boarding by passengers, crewmembers or others.
- The treated aircraft must be ventilated for 30 minutes before boarding.
View CDC resources:
- Disinsection: Technical Statement on the Role of Disinsection of Airplanes or Ships in the Context of Zika Outbreaks, 2016
- Air Crew Safety and Health
View World Health Organization (WHO) resources:
- Report of the WHO Ad-hoc Advisory Group on aircraft disinsection for controlling the international spread of vector-borne diseases. 21-22 April 2016. This report stated the “effectiveness of disinsection was considered low for preventing pathogen importation, as there is a low risk of importation by mosquito vectors compared to infected travelers.” However, WHO continues to recognize a possible role for disinsection in certain circumstances and advises countries to conduct a risk assessment before instating requirements.
- Aircraft disinsection for mosquito control – describes types of disinsection, guidelines for testing efficacy of insecticide products used in aircraft, and a risk assessment model to help prevent “unacceptable health effects in passengers (including children), aircrew or ground staff.”
View Department of Transportation resources:
- DOT does not have any regulations that specifically address aircraft disinsection. As required by statute, DOT maintains the website, Aircraft Disinsection Requirements, which provides information about disinsection requirements of countries that require disinsection of aircraft cabins.
- Each country establishes its own aircraft disinsection requirements or methods. If passengers have concerns, they should contact the airline directly for the latest information.