Lehigh Valley International Airport will become the first airport to utilize the locally developed LifeAire air filtration system when it opens its new $29 million terminal connector and security checkpoint space early next year.
Tom Stoudt, executive director of the Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority, said the authority’s board of directors was in the process of designing the space when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
He said suddenly the idea of protecting against viruses and other pathogens was one of the top concerns of airports around the world, and the security checkpoint space was the area with the most contact and was the biggest risk for spreading the virus.
“So, when we were looking at the options different airports were implementing, we saw a lot of different technology,” Stoudt said. “We wanted something that was a very robust system, something that could not just handle COVID-19 but all kinds of airborne pathogens coming down the line.”
He said that since the LifeAire system was already used extensively in the hospital and health care industry, they knew it was a quality system.
LifeAire was developed in the Lehigh Valley around 10 years ago by fertility specialist, Dr. Kathryn Worrilow, who wanted a superior air filtration system to keep out impurities that could negatively impact the in vitro fertilization process. It can filter out viruses as small as the Anthrax virus, which is the smallest of the viruses, even smaller than COVID-19.
She quickly saw the possibilities the system had for more general health care uses and expanded the product line to focus on a broader range of needs.
The LifeAire system is now being used in settings ranging from St. Luke’s University Hospital to the Mayo Clinic.
When the pandemic hit, it drastically changed the business model. Worrilow said commercial real estate owners were reaching out to her asking if she could adapt an air filtration system to meet their desire to protect against the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses. The business quickly and dramatically expanded.
With the installation of the LifeAire system in the airport expansion, which is currently under construction, Worrilow said she hopes it will show other airports the advantages of having such a system to protect the health of passengers.
“Their vision was so impressive,” Worrilow said. “They wanted to do the best for their employees and passengers.”
Stoudt said he was happy to find the technology the airport needed from a local source.
“We saw a product that checked all the boxes for us, but it also happened to be made here in the Lehigh Valley,” he said. Because the airport works so closely with many Lehigh Valley businesses, he said it is always the authority’s goal to support those local businesses.
“Now we’re opening the door for other airports to bring this in,” he said.
But the sky, and not the airport, may be the limit for the prospects of the LifeAire system as the world becomes more attentive to preventing the spread of viruses.
Worrilow said that not only has the pandemic opened up commercial real estate markets, but more managers of other public spaces are looking into employing the technology.
Currently, Worrilow said she is in talks with three major sporting venues to install LifeAire systems to make their facilities a safer place.