UK-based Quest International and BAE Systems have jointly launched a revolutionary cabin air treatment system that promises both to sterilise recirculated onboard air and eliminate toxins from pressurised engine bleed air supplied to the cabin. It has been certificated by the European Aviation Safety Agency for use on the British Aerospace 146 and Avro RJ regional jet series, and has been given a supplemental type certificate for use on Boeing 757s.
Marketed as AirManager, the system is easily retrofittable to all commercial aircraft types, according to Quest founder David Hallam, but it has been trialled first on the 146/Avro RJ series and the 757, the two types known to have experienced the highest incidence of reported cabin air contamination by toxic organophosphates in pyrolised engine oil fumes.
The system delivers a secondary benefit that BAE claims will pay for the financial outlay on the equipment in less than a year. Fitting it provides a potential fuel saving of up to 1.5% a year, derived from a combination of the reduced pressure at which the new system operates compared with existing filters, and the fact that sterilised air can be recirculated harmlessly, reducing the amount of bleed air required from the engines. The weight of the equipment fit is a net 2kg (4.4lb), when previous filtration systems have been removed, says BAE, and it can be installed during overnight line maintenance, and serviced at C-checks.
The system processes cabin air in two stages: the first sees the air passed through an electrical field, known as a "close coupled field", which "eliminates smells and breaks down and destroys airborne pathogens, contaminants and toxins". The treated air is then passed through a "HAF" high air flow filter that traps all the particulates, which pick up an electrical charge as they pass through the air treatment unit.
The HAF filter works by attracting the charged particulates, rather than as a physical filter, which reduces to a very low level the pressure required to move air through it.
The installation in both aircraft types currently testing it is positioned so that no air enters the cabin or cockpit from the bleed air system without having first passed through the AirManager system. All recirculated air also passes through it. At present, says BAE, five European airlines are using the system on 757s or 146/RJ series aircraft. The companies do not wish to be named right now, says BAE.
Hallam says that the air treatment system was originally developed to purge nursing homes of smells, bacteria and viruses, and it is now becoming extensively used at medical establishments. The partnership with BAE was set up, he says, because the potential for the system in commercial air transport was clear, and he needed to work with an aerospace partner to test it in the aviation environment.
Quest and BAE say that they anticipate offering installations for Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 series aircraft next.