German transport minister calls for action over cabin air contamination

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German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer has called for urgent Europe-wide action on cabin air contamination in airliners, marking a significant policy shift by the Berlin government.

In a letter to EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas, Ramsauer writes: "The number of reports of incidents involving oil smells is steadily increasing." He cites 74 such reports in the past five years, nine of these classified as a serious risk to aircraft safety by Germany's Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (BFU).

Ramsauer has called for Kallas and the European Commission, working with the European Aviation Safety Agency, to propose a solution. "In one of these cases," Ramsauer tells Kallas, "the crew reported that they came close to a catastrophe." This is a reference to the BFU investigation of an incident involving a Germanwings aircraft at Cologne in December 2010, when both pilots reported being close to unconsciousness during the landing approach.

Ramsauer's initiative is a break with the recent German government approach to the cabin air contamination issue, which was examined by a cross-party parliamentary committee a little over a year ago.

However, the committee's verdict was determined by votes cast along party lines, with the majority right wing members voting that the issue was not serious. Ramsauer, as a member of the centre-right coalition government, has now changed that.