BAE Systems, in partnership with Quest International, look as if they have come up with a brilliant solution to a real problem – contaminated cabin air.
But if you had asked BAE the day before the 15 September press conference that launched this new system (called AirManager) whether contaminated cabin air was a problem, they would have said it was not – or at least not one of any significance.
When I asked – at the press conference – why BAE had produced a solution for a problem that does not exist, the response was accurate and well-rehearsed.
Not the whole truth, maybe, but true. The new system, says BAE, will improve the quality of cabin air, and offering “improvement” is a sufficient incentive for installing this equipment. They have a “duty of care”, the company said. How strange that, in previous discussion of this subject, that expression was not evoked.
If the companies’ claims for the technical capabilities of AirManager are completely accurate, the improvement would indeed be dramatic.
Most of the media, following the press conference, have hyped one very important benefit: this system kills bacteria and viruses of all kinds.
With a swine flu pandemic predicted to sweep the Northern Hemisphere this winter, maybe an aeroplane kitted out with AirManager could be one of the safest places on the planet.
The system, originally designed for medical premises, literally sterilises the air, and destroys odours too.
But what of toxic organophosphates that enter the cabin via the engine bleed air pressurisation system when engine oil seals fail?
It will deal with those, too, promises the system’s inventor, David Hallam of Quest.
But BAE and the UK Government have told us that events involving oil-based organosphosphate fumes/mists getting into cabin air have been incredibly rare, and when they happen it is not at harmful levels.
I was informed at the press conference that it is more or less a coincidence that the first two aircraft types that have been fitted with this clever invention are the two that have suffered “fume events” more commonly than any others: the BAE Systems 146/Avro RJ series and the Boeing 757.
Maybe we should just be grateful that, finally, it looks as if a viable solution to contaminated cabin air has been found?
No, not good enough. The rights of crew and passengers whose health has already been ruined by neurotoxin fume events have to be properly recognised. The same treatment should apply to those whose health has yet to be damaged by flying in aircraft that suffer unfortunate fume events while their aircraft is awaiting fitment of AirManager (or any other worthy competitor that emerges).
Within a month or two of today, Professor Clement Furlong of the University of Washington, Seattle, will have identified the biomarkers that scientifically link sickness in passengers and crew to aircraft fume events. Then the industry’s lawyers will no longer be able to rely on legal technicalities to avoid facing reality.
At least the launch of AirManager is a sign that reality is beginning to be faced in a practical and beneficial way.