The purpose of the UK DfT cabin air sampling study is "to detect a spectrum of compounds in the cabin environment", concentrating on volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds collected at all phases of flight and on the ground.
Volatiles analyst Dr Chris Walton explains that, during the functionality phase of the tests, four systems were put on trial and two systems have been chosen: one - a solid phase microextract (SPME) device - detects and warns of the presence of an increased level of contaminants but cannot measure their concentration. The other device - which uses replaceable pumped thermal desorption tubes (PTDT) - is used to collect the contaminants at that precise point for later examination, while another PTDT unit continues running throughout.
PTDTs can measure concentration as well as collecting all the chemicals present. This process can be repeated as often as necessary, sealing the tubes for later analysis and replacing them on the pump unit with fresh ones.
Professor Helen Muir says her team will ensure its scientific independence by directly carrying out the sample collection without any participation by the airlines, by having the samples analysed independently, and by providing the eventual results and methodology for scientific peer review.