ATLANTA - A new study funded by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and conducted by Battelle, a Columbus, Ohio-based global services and technology enterprise, will examine the link between aircraft cabin air and health symptoms and discomfort experienced by passengers and crew members.

“The aircraft cabin is a challenging microenvironment for maintaining the health, comfort, and well-being of passengers and crew,” said Jeff Myers, principal investigator for Battelle. “Space is limited, conditions can feel cramped, the outside environment is extreme, and travelers may experience anxiety over loss of control over their situation and environment. Through this study, we will determine the causes of passenger and crew discomfort and use that information to make flights more comfortable.”

During flights, passengers and crew can experience noise, reduced atmospheric pressure, poor lighting, vibration, low relative humidity, variable temperature, and potential air quality degradation.

The study, set to begin early this year, will be carried out on several international and domestic commercial airlines. It also has the support of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Airliner Cabin Environment Research.

Results from the research could be used by manufacturers to modify aircraft to improve air quality or by airline companies to make more low-impact changes, such as adjustment of lighting.

As part of the research, passengers on 160 flights will be surveyed about their perceptions of air quality on the flight. The flights will vary in distance, lengths, and time zones.

Following the surveys, the top causes for statistical variation (such as the most complaints by time zone) will be ranked. Scientists then will travel on those flights, using on-board monitoring instruments to measure carbon monoxide and dioxide, respirable particles, and volatile organic compounds among others.

The research is the second phase of a $1.8 million research project. In the first phase in 2004, passengers and crew surveyed on four flights out of Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Chicago, and Seattle indicated that the overall cabin air quality was adequate.

Publication date: 01/15/2007