The Global Cabin Air Quality Executive (GCAQE) has launched its ‘Clean Air Campaign’ calling for the mandatory introduction of effective ‘bleed air’ filters and contaminated air warning sensors on passenger aircraft.

    It claims that over the last 20 years, there have been over 50 recommendations and findings made by 12 air accident departments globally, directly related to contaminated air exposures on passenger jet aircraft. However, it says that commercial aircraft continue to fly, with no contaminated air warning systems to notify passengers and crews when the air they are breathing is contaminated.

    The campaign states that the design flaw relates to the way the breathing air supply on all passenger jet aircraft (except the Boeing 787) is supplied. The breathing air is provided to passengers and crews unfiltered directly from the compression section of the engines or from the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), a small engine in the tail of the aircraft. This is a process known as ‘bleed air’ because it is ‘bled’ from the hot compression section of the engine. According to the campaign, the ‘bleed air’ is not filtered and is known to be contaminated with synthetic jet engine oils and hydraulic fluids.

    GCAQE spokesperson Tristan Loraine stated: “In the GCAQE’s view, despite knowing about this issue for decades, aviation regulators around the world such as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have, on this specific problem, put the corporate interests of the aerospace industry ahead of flight safety and public health.

    “They have failed to mandate the installation of effective contaminated air warning systems or ‘bleed air’ filtration systems. They have also failed to require airlines to inform crews or passengers about these exposures. Instead, they claim the air in aircraft is better than in your home and continue to call for more research. The sole result of calling for further research will be to delay having to take mitigating actions which are needed now, to finally resolve this public health and flight safety issue.”

    It claims that the industry “frequently states” that the air quality in a plane is better than in a house or office, but says despite this statement, the industry filters the ‘bleed air’ used for the Fuel Tank Inerting System (FTIS). FTIS was introduced after the TWA 800 tragedy to prevent a fuel tank ignition. The FITS system works by providing a nitrogen rich environment in the fuel tank. The system also uses bleed air, but because of the presence of engine oil fumes in the ‘bleed air’ and their adverse effects on the system, this ‘bleed air’ is filtered.

    The campaign alleges that flight safety has been compromised due to crew being impaired or even totally incapacitated from exposure to contaminated air and says that crews and passengers have suffered both short and long-term health effects as a consequence of these exposures.

    In addition to the ‘Clean Air Campaign’ and the ‘2021 Aircraft Cabin Air Conference’ held between 15 and 18 March 2021, the GCAQE has also recently created a global reporting system for contaminated air events, known as GCARS. The ‘Global Cabin Air Reporting System’, which anyone can use, is available at: https://gcars.app/

    Loraine added: “The industry has achieved so many great things in the last 50 years. It has taken numerous steps to enhance flight safety but sadly on this issue, it has failed. The regulators say they need to know what chemicals are present during a contaminated air event before they can consider mandating new technologies to mitigate the problem. They knew over 20 years ago what chemicals were present, as they have data from the investigation into the total incapacitation of two pilots on a domestic Swedish flight known as the ‘Malmo’ incident. It is unbelievable that they continue to fail to fix this basic design flaw. ”

    To support its campaign the GCAQE has released a brief educational film in over 40 languages. They have also released a short animated film explaining the basics of the air supply system on aircraft.