Analysis of indoor and workplace air quality

© Fraunhofer ITEM, Ralf Mohr

In the context of health and safety of airline passengers and crew members, air quality inside airplanes has been a subject of debate for over 60 years.

A current focus of research is on cabin or cockpit air quality (CAQ) in airplanes, which can be affected by short-term incidents, referred to as “fume events”. A significant incident affecting in-flight air quality is the leakage of oil fumes from the engines into the cabin and/or cockpit via the bleed air system. As a result of such an incident, potentially hazardous substances such as organophosphates, phenyl naphthylamine, and tricresyl phosphate (TCP), which have been associated with health complaints, can be introduced into the cabin or cockpit. Such health complaints are often summarized with little differentiation under the term “aerotoxic syndrome“. The occurrence of an engine-related fume event is considered a very rare and unforeseeable incident; but besides engine-related incidences, there are also other sources of contamination such as cleaning processes, inflow of outdoor air, passengers etc., that can have a negative impact on cabin air quality.

In an ongoing study, Fraunhofer ITEM is closely collaborating with the Hannover Medical School to measure and analyze in-flight cabin and cockpit air. Manpower and logistic support for this study, commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), is being provided by the companies Lufthansa Technik AG and Condor Flugdienst GmbH. To enable better differentiation between fume events and “normal air” in the future, in-flight air is monitored separately during the different flight phases (take-off, cruise, and landing). The instrumentation applied in the ongoing measurement campaign, which was initiated in July 2015, allows detection of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), aldehydes, organic phosphorous compounds, and particles in cabin and cockpit air. To enable detection of exceptional fume events during cruise, a special VOC sampling system is also included in the equipment.

For the ongoing study, about 70 in-flight measurement campaigns have been scheduled, serving to prepare a second, more comprehensive study. In this second study, the focus will be on the impact of technical incidents (e.g. leakage of oil fumes from the engines) on cabin air quality.

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