Cranfield academic leads cabin air research

Project requested by Government to investigate 'fume events' and pilot ill-health.

Cranfield University has announced a major new research project into aircraft cabin air quality.

Prof Helen Muir, a world-recognised expert in aviation safety, will lead a team of experts over the next year to determine if the air in flight decks, specifically the BAe 146 and Boeing 757, contains pollutants that can be dangerous to pilots and passengers.

Cranfield will be working with the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to lead

But Prof Muir's team will independently examine what happens if engine oil fumes get into the air in the cabin, creating 'fume events'.

They will analyse what these fumes contain and if any contaminants exist in sufficient quantities to potentially harm crew and passengers.

The research is being undertaken in response to a Committee on Toxicity (COT) recommendation from its review of evidence relating to cabin air.

Fume events are thought to occur in roughly 1one in 2,000 flights.

The COT said that without further research it could neither confirm nor rule out a link between cabin air and ill health among pilots.

The House of Lords Select Committee on Science & Technology has also called for such a study.

The main objective of Prof Muir's preliminary work was to determine the appropriate methodology and equipment to be used to examine what volatile or semi-volatile organic compounds are in the air and in what quantities.

No one has yet captured these samples of cabin air during fume events and analysed the samples to see what they contain.

Many chemical smells on planes last less than a minute and are unpredictable.

The second phase of the research will be to actually carry out the experiments.

Cranfield University researchers will travel in the flight deck of the BAe 146 and Boeing 757, two aircraft models which have had reports of 'fume events', with two sensing devices capable of picking up minute traces of air contaminants.

Air samples will be taken before, during and after the flight.

The experiments will be conducted on 100 flights and the information gathered will be reported in 2009 once all results are analysed.