On aircraft, cabin air quality contributes significantly to the comfort and well being of passengers and crews alike. Commercial aircraft operate primarily in the troposphere and lower stratosphere, which is an environment hostile to life.
A sophisticated aircraft environmental control system ensures that our journey onboard aircraft usually is a comfortable experience despite outside conditions of -50°C, high ozone concentrations and only 1/5th of the ambient pressure on the earth's surface.
Outside air which is usually very clean, particularly during flight, is conveyed into the pressurized fuselage and approximately the same amount is discarded overboard by the environmental control system.
The entire cabin air is exchanged with outside air every three minutes.
In an article in the Airbus / FAST magazine #50 (August 2012) Dr. Andreas Bezold explains details of cabin air quality, the aircraft environmental control system and measurement campaigns involving an IONICON PTR-TOF 8000 instrument providing further insights:
"Airbus is promoting and supporting international research projects and working groups, to acquire independent external expertise and scientific knowledge by promoting best standards for an ideal cabin environment and its verification.
Currently, a number of air quality measurements are conducted on the A380 flying test bed for the new A350XWB (Extra Wide Body) Trent engine.
These analytical capabilities were also used to tackle problems that could occur during production flights, which are conducted for each aircraft prior to delivery by Airbus.
Any contamination introduced during manufacturing will become apparent when the aircraft air supply system is operated as a whole, and some parts of the bleed air system are subjected to the highest operational temperatures for the first time.
Recently a sophisticated measurement system was planned and installed on several A330/A340 Family aircraft, consisting of a unique online mass spectrometer (Ionicon PTR TOF 8000) and a multifunctional sampling system (Fraunhofer IBP) to elucidate the origin of a particular smell that occurred during production flights only.
With this analytical system, a marker substance and finally the root cause for the smell could be identified unambiguously, based on the results of air quality measurements on the aircraft during flight.
Knowing the precise root cause and having clear evidence at hand, corrective actions could be implemented at the supplier which is manufacturing the component responsible for the smell, and will be further followed up."