IN FOCUS: Cabin air quality back under the spotlight

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Regular reports of heated oil fumes in cockpits and cabins has led one European government to press for common standards to deal with associated health risks

There have been regular crew reports of airborne incidents in which cockpit and cabin air has been contaminated with engine oil fumes. This is particularly true in Germany, which has a respected system of compulsory safety reporting, but it is a universal issue with reports being filed by pilots in UK and US airlines, among others.

Because jet engine oil contains organophosphates that can be harmful to human health, the German government is pressing the European Commission to set common standards for dealing with the risk heated oil fumes pose by entering the cabin when engine oil seals leak. The fumes are introduced to the cockpit and cabin because air is continually drawn from the engine compressors for air-conditioning and pressurisation.

A higher level of sustained interest in cabin "fume events" by German news media compared with press elsewhere in Europe has contributed to a higher incidence of crew awareness there, hence increased levels of reporting. Nevertheless, Germany's aviation authority has voiced concerns that incidents of this type are still under-reported. Consistent German media interest is also likely to be a factor in the relatively high level of political involvement in the subject, up to German transport minister Peter Ramsauer, who has called for combined European action to eliminate or reduce the risk.


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