Most modern passenger aircraft are equipped with pressurised, climate controlled, cabins. In spite of the aircraft designers’ intentions, unwanted fumes frequently permeate the interior of the aircraft. Open doors and hatches as well as certain on-board sources can introduce fumes to the cabin environment. However the usual path of entry for fumes is via the aircraft pressurisation and climate control systems. The majority of passenger aircraft utilise bleed air from the engine compressor or from the APU to pressurize and heat or cool the aircraft cabin. As a consequence, any contaminants introduced into the compressor at the point from which the bleed air is extracted may result in fumes in the cabin.
For more than twenty years, concerns have been expressed about a possible relationship between exposure to fumes from heated engine and hydraulic oils contaminating air drawn into aircraft air conditioning systems in certain types of aircraft, and post-exposure acute and chronic symptoms experienced by some cabin occupants. Most reports involve aircrew - both pilots and flight attendants. The term ‘Aerotoxic Syndrome’ has been used by some to describe the symptoms experienced, although this term is not accepted as a recognised medical diagnosis. Although a number of inquiries have been undertaken, the results have been indeterminate, due in part to the difficulty in finding satisfactory evidence.
The Dutch Public Broadcasting organisation (NPO) created a documentary on this topic:
The BBC just recently dedicated an episode of its renowned "Panorama" to the subject:
What does BeCA do?
BeCA has always been very active on this topic. At European level, we participate in the CEN working group, which aims to create a European norm on cabin air contamination. We also chair the Cabin Air Quality working group of our European structure, the European Cockipt Association and we are member of the GCAQE (Global Cabin Air Quality Executive).
Since these topics are currently under scrutiny by both German and UK National Authorities we maintain close ties with our sister organisations VC and BALPA in order to provide our members with the latest updates. If you want to share your experience about this topic, please contact us.