Aircraft air quality and transport’s virus-risk in focus


Air quality on flights is due to improve if the European Union agrees to back new safety standards. The fresh push for cleaner air comes as transport companies struggle to convince passengers their services are low risk in the ongoing spread of the coronavirus.

New standards developed by the European Committee on Standardisation (CEN) over the course of the last five years aim to prevent plane passengers from being exposed to engine oil and hydraulic fumes during flight.

A majority of aircraft compress air in their engines and then pump it into the plane, in order to preserve cabin pressures. This causes low-level contamination with engine fumes, which can reach higher levels if planes are not maintained properly.

This has been standard operating procedure on commercial airliners for more than 60 years.

Representatives from the airline and manufacturing industries, passenger groups, and trade unions collaborated on the standard. In a statement, they said that it “represents what can be accomplished when experts from every side of the issue collaborate within a structured and balanced framework”.

The new criteria would ensure that ventilation systems flood aircraft cabins with enough air so as to prevent the build-up of odors or contaminants, such as carbon dioxide, and sets a minimum airflow rate to achieve that.

CEN still needs to finalize the standard, which the European Commission, Parliament, and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) must then also approve in order for it to become binding.

“We believe that the new standard provides a world-beating reference on how to manage the issue of contaminated air on aircraft and […] stands above current standards regulation,” the statement added.

The Commission could decide to adopt it into the bloc’s existing aviation regulations if officials conclude that the standard will help regulate the single market more effectively. It would also likely satisfy ‘better regulation’ policy-making, as the work has essentially been done already.

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EURACTIV, 26 October 2020