First results of in-flight measurements in Lufthansa A380 and A321 prove that cabin air quality is high
Lufthansa has been actively investigating smell events in aircraft for many years. This includes an intensive and cross-disciplinary investigation into whether these incidents could cause a health risk to passengers and crew members. Lufthansa has so far invested more than EUR 500,000 in large-scale projects as part of efforts to investigate and get to the bottom of said incidents in a transparent way. This level of commitment is unprecedented among airlines, with Lufthansa going above and beyond industry standards.
The first results of a long-term measurement series in cooperation with the Institute for Occupational Medicine at Hanover Medical School (MHH) show that cabin air is of high quality and comparable to indoor air quality on the ground, such as in offices. MHH published the first results on aldehydes from a test series on cabin air quality in the international “Journal of Chromatography B” in September 2015. These results clearly show that cabin air quality is good. In 64 measurement flights with 11 different Airbus A380 as well as 44 measurement flights with 15 different Airbus A321, there were no indications of elevated aldehyde levels. Lufthansa carried out these specific measurements between April 2013 and May 2015. Additional measurement flights with Lufthansa planes have been performed as part of an European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) study recently.
None of the samples in the whole measurement series contained traces of ortho-tricresyl phosphates (o-TCP), which are neurotoxic to humans. The readings for all investigated substances are below German and international standard values. This also includes measurements during documented on-board odor incidents. No link with TCP could be established in the investigated odor incidents.
Lufthansa Technik and the MHH developed a measurement kit that was specifically designed for the on-board investigations. The kit can detect around 200 substances that can potentially be present in cabin air by actively taking samples that are then analyzed in the lab, with methods including isotope dilution analysis. A data logger constantly records all climate data, such as temperature, air pressure and humidity, while an aerosol spectrometer measures dust content. The kit’s other components measure levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In total, over 150 VOCs, an additional 15 aldehydes – such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and hexanaldehyde – and 19 organophosphates such as TCP are monitored. Screening analysis was also carried out to identify unknown substances in cabin air.