Cabin air quality: CEN standard in sight but the battle goes on

11 Aug 2020

German newspaper Handelsblatt published an article on the topic of the upcoming European air quality standard. It is available, in German, here, and the summary of the article, below.


After 65 years of use of bleed air (compressed air taken from the gas turbine) in aeroplanes, thousands of fume events and hundreds of studies, the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) is about to propose a standard for cabin air quality. This September, they will be present a standard on a topic that has been a battleground between trade unions and consumer organisations on one side and airlines and aircraft manufacturers on the other for more than six years.

A large majority of aircraft use bleed air. The concerns of trade unions and consumer organisations mostly grow out of a lack of sensors in the system that would detect high levels of toxins in the air and sound alarm. Very few aircraft, such as Boeing 787 Dreamliner, use a different system and show that bleed air is not the only possible solution.

The draft standard represents a breakthrough as the first of its kind in Europe, and it includes requisite training for workers, along with better and more targeted maintenance practices, and specific recommendations for air filtration and sensors. The sensors are intended to enable both airline crews and maintenance workers to respond more promptly and effectively to the presence of toxic fumes in the air supplied to the cabin and flight deck, thereby improving flight safety. The ETF has been involved in the work of TC 436, the committee of the EU standards authority CEN, from the very beginning, lately thanks to the great work of our expert Judith Anderson, and with the support of the European Trade Union Confederation. The CEN committee membership includes representatives for workers, passengers, manufacturers, and airlines, all of whom have committed their time and expertise for the past five years to draft this document. Once published, the standard will be non-binding unless adopted by EASA, but it is good road map which has the potential to improve the health and safety of transport workers and passengers alike.”

The main issue in establishing binding regulations is the denial of airlines that there even is an issue to solve. The truth is, as ETUC summarises it, that “[the airlines] deny the link between the bleed air in the same way as the harmfulness of asbestos of cigarettes has been denied”. In the interest of the European crew members and the passengers, it is of utmost importance that trade unions continue the pressure on the European Commission and EASA to come up with binding standards for cabin air quality.