fume events

Sep 14, 2017

Fume events may be rare, but a major effort to prevent them is underway

Can airlines and aviation professionals sort out potentially deadly cabin fume events? An ambitious conference is about to try and prevent a future disaster

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

An upcoming conference in London next week will have Australian participation in dealing with the vexed issue of debilitating fume events in jets and regional turboprops.

But is there a problem of significant magnitude? This recent article in Fortune suggests there clearly is an issue, yet one that is comparatively rare, yet too persistent to be ignored.

The conference website for the Imperial College London event on 19-20 September sets out an agenda that many aviation followers would have liked to have seen get into top gear years ago.

It runs the risk of being seen as less relevant than the ferociously challenging fume event of these times, the combusting lithium ion battery powered phone, tablet or PC that could destroy a flight over long range oceanic routes far from emergency airstrips, if as has nearly happened on a number of occasions, efforts to quench the device began too late.

The aircraft that appear to have experienced the most fume events are the BAe 146 or Avro jets that now seem to have faded out of passenger service in favor of small air freight operations, and the Being 757s, which never flew in Australia in other than isolated charter roles and in a few low frequency Asia airline secondary services around about the late 90s and turn of this century.

However fume events can kill, or cause severe health impacts, and failing to address such risks, which have presented themselves in current single aisle jets and turboprops in Australia since the demise of widespread BAe flights in the bush seems like a gratuitous neglect that the conference hopes to help resolve.

This conference, sponsored by the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive (GCAQE) will be the largest ever held in this field, and is expected to produce some compelling new information and calls to action that could prevent a fume event disaster or further often career ending health effects for airline pilots and cabin attendants.

Dr Jonathan Burdon, Consultant Respiratory Physician, Mercy Private Hospital, East Melbourne; Chairman, National Asthma Council Australia, South Melbourne will be presenting his paper at the conference as a co-author of this Panorama article.It seems fairly obvious from the work done to date that fume events caused by unintended aircraft design decisions or similarly unintended deficiencies in maintenance or operational procedures can be all but eliminated.

In terms of an emerging crisis in the supply of professional pilots versus surging growth, and continued brand damaging stories about passengers experiences of fume events, the industry might really need to overcome these problems with more urgency than it seems to have shown in recent years.

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3 thoughts on “Fume events may be rare, but a major effort to prevent them is underway

  1. Jacob HSR

    Does a fume event take place in the cockpit or in the passenger area?

    Is there electronic equipment to detect fumes? Changing the air in the cabin more frequently – say every 6 mins – would that be a solution?

    1. Tango

      Fume events take place wherever the release point is, be it the cockpit (wiring and other electrical) cabin with pax (all their stuff) or the cargo hold and or main deck on freighters (747 crash in ME and off Korea)

      Less know are the things like the MD-80 (Ak Airlines) that the bleed air leaked oil. They claimed not but I can smell that stuff and I had one flight it was there on. Obnoxious to pax, life threatening to crew.

      Unless its Outside Air (OA) more air exchanges don’t help. In the HVAC world you are now obligated to 30% outside air and have to heat up the OA if your return air is not warm enough. That’s up from 20% due to experience.

  2. Dan Dair

    I suspect that the point of this particular conference is solely in relation to the cabin air-bleed from the engines.?
    The possibility of engine fume contamination of that air-feed would render the cabin air for the whole aircraft potentially life-threatening.
    From the way Ben has worded the passage; “caused by unintended aircraft design decisions or similarly unintended deficiencies in maintenance or operational procedures”, it would seem that there are a number of ways in which the air feed could be contaminated.?
    Specifically identifying how & why these errors occur, would go a long way to enabling manufacturers & operators to put in place or revise the current methodology, to prevent it happening in the future;
    Though to be honest, I’d have thought that this would have been a thing which the manufacturers, regulators or investigators would have already put in place, based upon the incident investigation reports.?

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