Delta Air Lines (DAL 1.90%) has redeployed an internal manufacturing unit usually used to explore ways to make the airline run more efficiently to make face shields for hospital workers battling the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The airline, which has grounded more than 600 planes and cut more than half of its schedule as travel demand has evaporated, said its Delta Flight Products subsidiary is working with a nonprofit affiliated with Georgia Institute of Technology to make the shields.
Using materials and designs provided by the nonprofit organization, Delta's unit expects to manufacture and deliver an initial 2,000 shields to workers in New York by today and another 4,000 for Atlanta-area hospitals in the days to come.
The pandemic has led to a shortage of N95 masks. While a face shield is an inadequate replacement for a mask, it does provide some level of protection.
Delta's initial run of shields was done in part to test the design and fabrication process. Delta said that it is exploring expanding shield production beyond the initial order based on demand.
The airlines have been hit hard by the pandemic, with Delta last month saying it was losing $350 million per week and expects revenue to be down 80% year over year in the second quarter. But the industry has been trying to help where it can, with airlines offering free flights to medical personnel heading into pandemic hot spots and offering up facilities as staging areas.
Delta Flight Products is an internal manufacturing laboratory established to develop ways to improve airline operations and customer experience. In years past, the group has developed a system that reduces the force needed to close overhead storage bins, for example.
It also developed the world's first wireless in-flight entertainment system, allowing Delta to reduce the amount of heavy wiring on board its aircraft and eliminate an estimated 1,330 metric tons of emissions annually.