It often happens. Almost every week, pilots report strange odors or even smoke in the cabin of airplanes. The events described in the specialist magazine “Fume Events” do not however mean the exhalations of passengers. Rather, there has been a heated debate over whether and how dangerous cabin air in passenger aircraft can be for technical reasons. According to research by the “World”, the European Commission has now commissioned an investigation by research institutes. Industry is also involved.
The investigation by Brussels will last 36 months and costs 1.95 million euros. Prior to this, the top European air traffic control authority (EASA) had already conducted two measurement campaigns over 20 months. These results are to be submitted by the end of March, an EASA spokesman said.
Only the Boeing 787 is not examined
Thus, the EU Commission and its authority would need EASA for almost five years to finally clarify the issue on health on board.
The EU now wants to find out whether air quality limits are exceeded, as well as “potentially damaging effects on occupant / passenger health”. Specifically, according to the invitation to tender, the actual causes “which lead to contamination of the spigot, in particular by oils and hydraulic fluids and their by-products” are determined.
In this way, the researchers examine the cabin air system of almost all major passenger models. Only the Boeing model 787 works with another air system. In the bleed air (Bleed Air), which has been used since the 1960s, the cabin air is branched off from the compressor of the engine.
It is controversial to what extent the cabin air can be contaminated. In any case, not every smell in the cabin is due to oil residues. There may also be fumes from the on-board kitchen or residues of de-icing liquid. Airbus itself had pointed out in 2013 the potential for lack of service at the auxiliary engine (APU) as a source of contaminated air.
The industry, such as the Federal Association of the German Aerospace Industries (BDLI) and airlines, do not see any risk. According to the latest scientific findings, there is no health risk, according to BDLI. This would also have been the result of measurement campaigns on board Lufthansa aircraft through the Hannover Medical School.
Cockpit warns for years of oil spills
On the other hand, the Cockpit Association warns for years of the dangers of oil fumes in the air, especially certain substances such as tricresyl phosphates (TCP) and ortho-tricresyl phosphates (o-TCP). Trade unions refer to proven elevated organophosphates in flying personnel, diseases and partial dangerous incidents.
The diseases are summarized under the concept of the aerotoxic syndrome. Frequently, there is a small war when official authorities initiate official investigations of “Fume Events” .
So now there is another study, this time by the EU Commission, which is based on the findings of the EASA research contracts. Companies from the Netherlands (TNO, RIVM), Belgium (VITO) and Germany (Fraunhofer) as well as Airbus Operations (Hamburg) and the Czech subsidiary of the US technology supplier Honeywell.
However, it will be a good three years before these results are available. Until then, many pilots will report a “Fume Event”.
Read the full report here