Friday, August 7, 2009

Aircraft cabin air under the spotlight again

Last year, in Weekend Wings #7, I wrote about so-called 'Aerotoxic Syndrome', where bleed air from the engines, used to pressurize the cabin, becomes contaminated with lubricants and other substances. It appears to be a serious and growing health risk.

Now Congress appears willing to act on the threat. Flight Global reports:

Congress is processing a law that will require the US FAA to mount research and development on systems for detecting and eliminating cabin air contamination by oil-based fumes.

The research is intended to result in the provision of on-board equipment to detect contaminants in engine and auxiliary power unit bleed-air supplied to cockpits and cabins, and to filter out the contaminants.

. . .

Both the US Senate and the House of Representatives are considering the following wording for the law: "Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this act, the administrator of the FAA shall initiate research and development work on effective air cleaning and sensor technology for the engine and auxiliary power unit for bleed air supplied to the passenger cabin and flightdeck of a pressurised aircraft."

If passed, the act will also require the FAA to submit a report on the research and development programme within a year of the law's enactment.

There's more at the link.

This is encouraging, even if it's not enough. If the study shows - as I expect it will - that such contamination of cabin air is far more frequent than currently thought, it'll hopefully spur more regulation to require that incoming air be filtered and purified, to remove this health hazard.

Meanwhile, I strongly suggest that those who fly frequently aboard commercial airliners should have their overall health checked more often than those who don't, and that they should pay particular attention to known symptoms of this problem. See Weekend Wings #7 for details.



reflectoscope said...

Its a great solution, but is there even concrete evidence of a problem?

Don't get me wrong, I know aviation turbine oil is lousy stuff. I know how it can get from the engine or the air conditioning pack seals into places it doesn't belong. But how do you fix this? It is possible to work something into future designs, but for existing aircraft this isn't like hush kits for the engines where the affected parts are fairly easy to replace without having to tear apart the airframe.

Mind you the way security theater is these days, I've given up on elective travel and will only tolerate business travel if I can't drive.


On a Wing and a Whim said...

Given how congress has acted so far, this doesn't exactly inspire me with confidence - either that the problem is severe enough to mandate congressional handwringing, or that congressional back-patting will generate more good than unintended (and specific lobbyist-group-intended) consequences.

I highly advocate learning to fly and flying yourself, and avoiding the security theater, swindling businesses and extensive wait times trapped and squashed in holding pens on the ground and in the air. It take a little longer, most of the time (but not always - you don't have to go from Houston to Chicago to Atlanta just to get to New Orleans) but you are in control, able to see the sights and arrange the trip to your needs and wants. (And still skip all the speed traps, construction, potholes, confusing exits, streets with changing names, and other joys of road travel.)