Operated by the airport’s terminal services staff, the robot will be used on jet bridges, gate areas, ticketing counters, baggage claim (pictured here), concessions facilities, elevators, and restrooms. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio International Airport has turned to a local company’s germ-zapping robot to help sanitize jet bridges, restrooms, and other high-traffic areas. 

Airport officials announced Wednesday SAT has purchased a Xenex LightStrike robot, which uses high-intensity germicidal light to kill viruses, bacteria, and fungal spores. The robot was delivered to the airport on Aug. 27, said Rich Stinson, director of strategic communications at SAT.

San Antonio-based Xenex said it has seen a large increase in sales since the coronavirus pandemic took hold as hotels, car dealerships, restaurants, and other businesses have sought to employ additional sanitary measures to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

Jesus Saenz Jr., director of airports for the City of San Antonio, said airport officials decided to purchase one of the robots for the airport to make the airport safer.

“The acquisition of the Xenex LightStrike robot is just the latest innovative enhancement to our daily operations and efforts to ensure that traveling through San Antonio International Airport is the easiest and safest experience passengers can encounter,” Saenz said in a prepared statement.

The robot will be used in the airport’s high-traffic areas “without a disruption to passengers,” a press release said. Operated by the airport’s terminal services staff, the robot will be used on jet bridges, gate areas, ticketing counters, baggage claim, concessions facilities, elevators, and restrooms.

Saenz said SAT already had a comprehensive sanitization and disinfection process in place, which included sanitation stations and social distancing, and considers the LightStrike robot an enhancement.

Earlier this year, Xenex said research done by the Texas Biomedical Institute proved the LightStrike can effectively kill SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Discussions about purchasing one of the robots began several months ago, Stinson said. SAT paid approximately $93,000 for the LightStrike robot, which has an estimated service life of five to seven years. The funds came from the Airport Operating and Maintenance fund, Stinson said.

The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on airline travel, with SAT expecting only half the traffic it had in 2019.

“Planning for the disinfection of public spaces – especially commercial airports – is a major priority to reduce the risk of disease transmission,” stated Mark Stibich, chief scientific officer and co-founder of Xenex. “Putting an effective infection prevention infrastructure in place is essential, and we are proud to partner with San Antonio International Airport in leading the aviation industry in this effort.”

San Antonio airport officials said SAT is the first airport in the world to purchase and deploy a Xenex robot.

“The [San Antonio] airport is the first of several city entities that will be using our robots for disinfection,” said Morris Miller, CEO of Xenex.

Airport officials are giving San Antonians a chance to name the robot as part of an effort designed to restore consumer confidence in commercial air travel. SAT will utilize its social media channels – Facebook, Twitter – and its direct website to host a community poll, which will open on Friday, Sept. 4, and run through Friday, Sept. 18.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...