Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum by Airbus

  Airbus welcomes this opportunity to give its views in this written submission to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee follow-up inquiry into "Air Travel and Health".


  Airbus SAS is a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS NV, a global aerospace and defence company. Airbus SAS has design and manufacturing facilities in France, Germany, the UK and Spain as well as subsidiaries in the US, China and Japan.

  The UK business is the Airbus wing leader and is responsible for the design, development, production and integration of wings for all Airbus aircraft produced to date. It is the global head quarters for Airbus' Wing and Pylon Centre of Excellence. The UK is also responsible for fuel system and landing gear integration.

  The subject matter being covered in this inquiry is in the domain of the global Centre of Excellence for Aerostructures led by Airbus in Germany, which has responsibility for design and development of the fuselage.

  Since the original inquiry, two major EC-funded projects on cabin environment and occupant health, comfort and well-being have been undertaken. "CabinAir" (which ran from January 2001 to December 2003) and ICE (Ideal Cabin Environment), which is now mid-way through, having completed a test campaign on 1500 passengers. Airbus is a contributor to both projects and more information is provided in section 2.

  In addition there have been activities sponsored by ASHRAE (American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers) in the USA, to which Airbus has also provided technical support as required by the investigation consortia. A number of internal Airbus projects remain commercially confidential; however one, which looks at trigger points for real time air monitoring, will be discussed in this submission.


What progress has been made in research into the priority areas identified by the Committee in 2000?

  The 2000 Committee inquiry was presented with some of the results from Airbus' measurement campaign in this area. More details are provided in an article published in Airbus' customer magazine. In addition, Airbus has participated in the European project known as "CabinAir" where extensive in-flight measurements were carried out. No abnormal contaminants or contaminant concentrations were identified during this measurement campaign, and thermal comfort in Airbus aircraft was found to be within the comfort range.

  In-flight monitoring is also a major part of the ASHRAE research project 1262 ("Relate air quality and other factors to comfort and health related symptoms reported by passengers and crew on commercial transport aircraft"), for which Airbus is providing technical support as needed. Again, the pilot project did not identify any anomalies with the cabin environment.

  Research to aid understanding of the interdependent effects of the cabin environment parameters has been a priority for Airbus for several years. As part of this effort Airbus is a partner in the European project "Ideal Cabin Environment" (ICE). One of the major goals of ICE is to address the aspect of combined effects of the aircraft environment on the occupants and measurements have been carried out in two test facilities, the pressurised flight test facility (FTF) at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics near Munich and the unpressurised Building Research Establishment ACE (Aircraft Cabin Environment) in the UK.

  Airbus has provided technical expertise regarding normal aircraft operations to support the test programme primarily in the areas of:

    —    temperature control;

    —    ventilation;

    —    pressurisation;

    —    humidity control; and

    —    noise.

  More detailed explanation of the ICE work plan is available, however Airbus understands that submissions made by other contributors to the inquiry will address the ICE project in more detail.

Do gaps remain in the evidence base and, if so, are they being filled?

  In order to support efforts to improve real-time monitoring, specifically in the case of smoke or fume events, Airbus has launched an internal project 6048 to investigate trigger compounds, concentrations and appropriate sensors that could be used to indicate ingestion or failure at the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) and/or engines. The project is primarily focused on:

    —    compounds present during smoke or fume events;

    —    concentration of associated compounds; and

    —    appropriate sensor technology.

  This study is on-going, and it is anticipated that significant validation efforts will be required, since the occurrence of these types of events is so infrequent that an accurate model of cabin effects has not yet been fully developed.

Have any new health concerns emerged since 2000, and what is being done to address them?

  We do not believe that there are new health concerns that have emerged since 2000, however it is clear that SARS and avian flu have focused attention on aspects of disease transmission within the cabin. Airbus has been supporting airlines concerned by providing operational and maintenance advice on how to best react to this situation (via Operator Information Telex, a non-urgent product and engineering information bulletin).

  To be prepared for the case of mutation of the H5N1 virus with sustained human-to-human transmission, an initial working group consisting of Airbus, Boeing and the WHO was convened by Airbus shortly after the SARS epidemic. This working group has now been re-established by IATA and ICAO with participation of the WHO, CDC, ICAO, IATA, Airbus and Boeing.

  Another concern that is not new but that has gained increasing public awareness is that of bleed air contamination events. Airbus has been monitoring reports of failures leading to cabin air contamination, and where necessary has introduced modifications to resolve specific failure cases. However, there is no evidence of systematic bleed air contamination due to design failures on Airbus aircraft. Information regarding environmental control system contamination sources has been made available to airlines through Service Information Letter 21-123. In support of these activities Airbus internal research project 6048 has been designed to determine a means for identifying a trigger point for a smoke or smell event.

  To date the main area of uncertainty regarding this topic is the lack of data during a failure event. Airbus is aware of the research in this area recommended by the Committee on Toxicity (COT) and the ACER project being sponsored by the FAA in America and hopes that this research will provide large enough test populations to be able to capture data from these very infrequent events.

Has new evidence invalidated any of the recommendations made by the Committee in 2000?

  In Airbus's view no additional evidence has invalidated the Committee's recommendations from 2000 with respect to the recommendations specifically directed toward aircraft manufacturers.

  It is important to point out that some of the recommendations, specifically concerning HEPA filtration and Ozone Converters, are already applied on current Airbus production aircraft. For those aircraft not in current production retrofit solutions exist for airlines to bring their aircraft up to the current industry standard.

  Airbus was part of the European project CabinAir consortium and supported the development of standard prEN4618. This standard provides performance based limits to ensure air quality within aircraft cabins, and was jointly developed with wide general interest, industry and regulatory participants.

  Airbus is playing an active part in the European project ICE (see above) and providing technical support (where required) to assure successful completion of the ASHRAE research project No: 1262. One of the ICE project deliverables is a new European pre-standard for the aircraft occupant well-being and comfort and the cabin environment.

How effective has the inter-departmental Aviation Health Working Group been in taking forward the Committee's recommendations? How are the arrangements for governance and regulation of the industry working?

  The CAA's Aviation Health Unit (AHU) participation in ICE has bought useful health oversight to the project. The continued contribution of a facts and science-led team within this domain is to be welcomed.

  The regulatory framework continues to evolve with harmonisation activities between the JAA and FAA regulations and the establishment, and increasing responsibilities, of EASA. If significant, new, health relevant facts are discovered they should be considered by the whole industry, including the airworthiness authorities, within the existing regulatory framework in order to decide whether changes are needed to the regulations.

How successful have the Government been in raising international awareness of passenger and crew health, and in improving international collaboration?

  Naturally Airbus seeks as much as possible to work collaboratively on the subject of the cabin environment and occupant health where this does not overlap with competitive imperatives. One area Airbus would like to see continued governmental engagement in is support of the COT investigation and wide dissemination of results.

What progress has the airline industry itself made since 2000?

  One of the recommendations outlined by the Committee concerns in-service performance monitoring of filters. Monitoring systems are already in place on the A330 and A340 family of aircraft, and this system has been further integrated within the A380 environmental control system. Before each flight the pressure drop of the filtration system is verified, and if the measured pressure is out of limits (within a given margin of error) a warning message (Class 5) is generated. The airline can use this maintenance warning to plan the filter replacement.

  Combined HEPA and active carbon filters have been offered by Airbus as an option for airlines to improve the cabin environment. These combined filters act to remove not just particulate but also gaseous contaminants from the re-circulated air.

  Methods for controlling the cabin air inflow have been developed and introduced with the A340-500 and A340-600 aircraft (entry into service 2002-03), and are also used on the A380. The flow management system introduces several benefits for the occupants and airlines. The amount of air delivered to the cabin is controlled based on the number of occupants on board. This has two major benefits for the occupants; better thermal control and higher humidity levels. Additionally, the airlines gain an energy efficient benefit by having reduced fuel burn on those flights with lower load factors.

  Active humidification systems have been developed for specific areas or zones within the cabin and crew rest facilities. These systems have been designed to provide increases in the relative humidity over and above what flow management systems may achieve, but to targeted areas. For instance, specific cabin zones, such as crew rest compartments, can be humidified to increase comfort to the occupants in those areas. The application of active humidification systems is however limited by the amount of water needed to operate the system. The amount of water depends on the efficiency of the system itself, the volume to be humidified and the length of time the system is operational.

  Ozone converters are offered as standard fit for all long-range aircraft to meet airworthiness requirements. A further development of this technology has allowed Airbus to offer combined ozone and odour reduction converters as an option for airlines. The exhaust fumes from ground service vehicles and other aircraft can be ingested during the ground phase. These fumes do not have health implications, being part of the surrounding airport environment, however can lead to discomfort (odours) for the aircraft occupants. These combined filters remove ozone to meet the airworthiness directives as well as removing gaseous odours entering the cabin via the bleed system during ground operations.

  The capabilities for medical treatment on board in case of an in-flight medical emergency have been improved in several aspects. Many aircraft nowadays have automated external defibrillators on board to treat specific types of cardiac arrest. The use of telemedicine devices to exchange information with a medical ground centre has become quite common and related technologies are improving. Airbus engineering provides support to airlines for the installation of both of these facilities. Successful application of telemedicine has been demonstrated on A340-600 together with Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic Airline crews during the pre-commercial entry to service evaluation flights.

  As ultra long haul flights become more frequent health and comfort aspects of the aircraft cabin and the environmental control systems have been further developed. Due to the increased probability for the occurrence of an inflight emergency with a greater number of passengers on board and longer flight times, novel solutions, such as first aid modules, have been developed for the A340-500/-600 and the A380.

  Additional possibilities for improvement of medical treatment on board of long haul aircraft have been also analysed by Airbus and will be further investigated in consultation with medical experts.

  Although development of the A350 XWB is in its early phases, Airbus fully intends to apply the results from the €6 million ICE project, as well as results from the German Government funded "LUFO" projects, a series of cabin related environmental control research projects.

To what extent has the information supplied to travellers been improved and integrated since 2000?

  Airbus believes that this question falls under the responsibility of the airlines. One of the goals of ICE however is to ensure wide dissemination of the study results, including to passengers. Airbus's participation in the ICE project means that additional support for the partners responsible for these deliverables will be provided if requested.

19 June 2007

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