For many years, airline crew members have expressed a wide variety of health concerns about contaminated air on aircraft. Now the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has invited stakeholders to execute a 36-month study that seeks to understand the potential long-term effects of contaminants through a comprehensive assessment of cabin air quality.
“The general objective of this research project is to enable step-advances in the analysis of the issues raised by contamination events resulting from oil leakage (including oil pyrolysis products) on board commercially operated large transport aeroplanes and the potential toxicological risks in light of the existing European standards and legislation on the quality of indoor air and professional exposure limits,” says EASA in its ‘call for tenders’.
EASA explains that the contract awardee will collect evidence on the chemical substances involved in oil leakage events from aircraft engines or APUs, and their impact on cabin air quality; develop a comprehensive understanding of the different scenarios for contamination that may be observed during flights “considering the complete aircraft bleed air system and air ventilation system”; and perform the toxicological risk assessment of the main identified chemical compounds, among other tasks.
There is some disagreement in the aviation community over whether or not toxic cabin air is a real problem. But pilots, cabin crew and consumer advocacy groups worldwide have long worried that oil fume events have caused everything from light-headedness and dizziness to vomiting and memory impairment, or worse.
“Cabin air in most of today’s jet aircraft (the Boeing 787 being the most notable exception) is drawn from compressors in engine compartments. If a seal inside the engine breaks, gases from engine oil and other toxic chemicals can mix with this ‘bleed air’, as it’s known, producing noxious fumes that leak into the aircraft cabin. These occurrences have the potential to incapacitate flight crews,” notes literature from the Air Line Pilots Association.
For its part, EASA says the new cabin air study has received funding from Horizon 2020, the European Union’s funding program for research and innovation. Tenders or requests to participate in the project will be accepted until 31 March 2021.
“[The] Dutch Association of Aviation Technicians NVLT is glad that EASA is issuing this research tender to find out the contamination risk on board by engine oil fumes. The same fumes to which aircraft engineers and pilots are on a daily basis exposed to during their external inspections,” says NVLT chairman Robert Swankhuizen on Twitter.