Home' Australian Aviation Magazine : January February 2010 Contents 62
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2010 AUSTRALIAN AVIATION
Clearing the air
What threat toxic fumes in aircraft cabins?
by Geoffrey omas
"We sweat in the cockpit, though
much of the time we fly with the
side windows open.
" e airplanes smell of hot oil and sim-
mering aluminum, disinfectant, leather ... the
stewardesses, short-tempered and reeking of
vomit, come forward as often as they can for
what is a breath of comparatively fresh air."
Legendary aviation author Ernest K
Gann's description of flying in the 1930s
ser ves as a reminder of how far the industry
has come in a relatively short time in im-
proving the air travel experience.
But it seems for a relative handful of
pilots and flight attendants nothing much
has changed -- except for the open window
-- with a spate of health claims being
successfully pressed against airlines that
are related in most cases to toxic fumes
entering the aircraft cabin and cockpit
from tiny oil leaks in engines and APUs.
To date, the bulk of the most publicised
complaints have centered on a single
aircraft type -- the BAe-146 -- although
others including the DC-9/MD-80 and
757 have also drawn complaints over air
quality from flightcrews.
Cabin air technology remains fundamen-
tally unchanged over the last few decades
and relies on bleeding air from the engines,
cooling it and circulating it into the cabin
through passive filters. e system de-
pends on 'HEPA' filter blocks and variants
through which air is passed to remove par-
ticulates. ese passive filters are dependant
on air being dry -- as is cabin air at cruise
altitude -- for maximum efficiency.
In Australia there have been several
successful claims by flight attendants who
alleged their health was damaged dur-
ing their ser vice on BAe 146s operated by
Ansett and East West in the 1990s.
In one case, settled in May 2008, a flight
attendant with East West was awarded
$137,757 by NSW's Dust Diseases
Tribunal. In another case, doctors said the
flight attendant still has long term health
problems, including intermittent breathing
difficulties, chemical sensitivity, dermatitis,
disorientation and impaired memory, which
have left her unable to work.
e BAe 146 entered ser vice in Australia
in 1983, with more than 30 in operation
during the peak of operations in the late
1990s. e fume problem -- which was at-
tributed to leaky engine seals -- was first re-
ported in 1991 with a handful of pilots and
cabin staff saying they had been overcome.
More than 60 Ansett flight attendants
claimed they could not work on the 146
and were rostered onto other aircraft. In-
terestingly, Ansett claimed at the time that
part of the problem was that some flight
attendants simply did not care for the 146.
In 1996, Ansett sought outside medical
advice and set up an independent panel,
including safety regulators, to evaluate air
quality. e panel determined that toxic
levels on the jets were thousands of times
lower than international standards.
However, the problem was somewhat
more serious according to one former Na-
tional Jet Systems (now Cobham Aviation
Services) executive. "It had the potential to
ground the fleet," he claimed.
e issue became the subject of a Sen-
ate inquiry whose October 2000 report
found that the BAe 146 met all certifica-
tion standards, but still delivered eight
recommendations, the most significant of
" e committee recommends that
CASA adopt the modification to aircraft
air circulation systems proposal for the BAe
146 aircraft by the aircraft's manufacturer
as compulsory for all BAe 146 operat-
ing in Australia and that this be achieved
by preparation and issue by CASA of an
appropriate form of maintenance direction
under the Civil Aviation Regulations.
" e Committee also recommends that
registration of BAe 146 aircraft operating
in Australia be reviewed, and that renewal
of Air Operating Certificates and registra-
tion of the BAe 146 be subject to comple-
tion of those recommended modifications
as a condition for continued registration of
CASA responded to the recommenda-
tions in issuing an AD (airworthiness
directive) requiring inspections of oil con-
tamination every 500 hours and established
a reference group to follow progress and
analyse outcomes of international research
into the issue of fumes.
National Jet, which as Cobham is now
the only BAe 146 operator in Australia,
worked extensively with BAE Systems and
engine manufacturer AlliedSignal to rectify
the engine seal problem. In fact, it was
National Jet engineers who made signifi-
cant contributions to the ultimate solu-
tion. ose new seals have been installed
photo -- Paul Sadler
Links Archive December 09 March 2010 Navigation Previous Page Next Page