Campaign calls for cleaner air on commercial aircraft

A campaign calling for cleaner air on commercial passenger jets has been launched this week. The appeal, initiated by the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive (GCAQE), calls on aviation regulators and manufacturers to change the filtration systems in modern aircraft in order to decrease the risk to passengers and crew.

Currently, aircraft filtration systems come with a fundamental design flaw – the breathing air supply to cabins comes unfiltered, directly from the compression section of a plane’s engine. This potentially contaminates the air and exposes those in the cabin to harmful jet oils and hydraulic fluids.

Over the past 20 years, more than 50 recommendations have been made by 12 different air accident and emergency departments to improve the process of filtering air. This comes after several incidents were detected of crew and passengers suffering health issues due to exposure to contaminated air.

Jet oils and hydraulic fluids contain a dangerous substance called organophosphates. These come with health warnings upon exposure, including causing cancer, infertility and other neurological effects. Organophosphates have been found to be presents in hundreds of swab samples taken from interior surfaces of aircraft.

The GCAQE is calling for air filtration systems to be fitted into commercial passenger aircraft, and also for warning systems to be installed that can alert passengers to when air becomes contaminated. At present, there is no such warning, so passengers are unaware of exposure.

There have been many proven cases of former employees that have retired early as a result of exposure to harmful toxins while in flight. The GCAQE says this is down to the lack of air filtration, despite many airlines claiming that the air they provide is purer than that of the average home or office.

Crew unions have been working with the aviation industry for more than a decade to agree a new standard for air quality onboard aircraft. However, the process has been subject to many delays. The GCAQE hopes its new campaign will raise vital awareness among passengers and persuade the airline industry to take action.

The GCAQE has made two short films to illustrate its campaign, which can be viewed on its website: gcaqe.org.