Cabin air contamination is going to be researched by EASA.
Aerotoxic syndrome, a disabling medical condition that has afflicted hundreds of pilots and cabin crew worldwide is caused by the presence in cockpit and cabin air of pyrolised organophosphates from engine oil that get into the engine bleed air that feeds the cabin. But the existence of this serious health and safety risk in commercial airliners is ignored by governments and disputed by the aviation establishment.
Forgive me for not getting too excited about the EASA-commissioned research just yet, because this has been researched before. But the previous research – in the UK – was conducted with a jaw-dropping level of carefully contrived incompetency, thus no action has resulted.
A great deal depends on the independence (from industry) of the research, and the competency and integrity of the researchers.
The research contract has been awarded to a pair of Hannover, Germany-based organisations, one a medical school (Medizinische Hochschule Hannover) and the other an applied research establishment (Fraunhofer). The research will start with in-flight air quality measurement to identify suitable instrumentation and methodologies to perform cabin and cockpit air contamination measurements.
Getting this right is vital, because if the methodology can be challenged, the vested interests in the industry will do just that with clinical efficiency. But not during the tests, the challenge will come when the research is complete and there is no going back.
When the instrumentation and testing methodology has been established, EASA says it intends a larger-scale test programme on board commercially operated large transport aeroplanes. This is where the real work will take place, because the early programme cannot continue long enough to establish a credible sample of actual fume events and also the normal contents of cabin air. The main reason the Cranfield University study of the same subject several years ago had zero credibility is that it was laughably brief.
EASA’s call for research bids states: “The quality of the air that passengers and air crews are exposed to on board commercial transport aeroplanes has been the basis of a continuing debate over the last 60 years, both from the health and safety points of view. Discussions about cabin or cockpit air quality need to differentiate between single cabin/cockpit air contamination [fume] events and the cabin air composition in normal operating conditions, for example the composition of the cabin air in the absence of any abnormal event and which can be compared, for instance, to the composition of the outside air or to the air at other workplaces.”
Results are expected in October 2016, says EASA.
If one of the results of this research were that detectors to identify the presence in cabin air of pyrolised organophosphates from leaking engine oil seals were made compulsory in all Europe-based airliners, that would be a triumph. Then the travelling public would know for sure what they are exposed to, and when.
If you’re interested in seeing a dramatic depiction of how this issue plays out in real life, watch “A Dark Reflection”.