How safe is airplane cabin air?

ASHRAE has debated the question, and a seminar on “aircraft cabin air quality” was held at its summer meeting in Minneapolis in June.

Among the speakers was David Space, Boeing Company, Seattle, WA, who discussed the design considerations that drive aircraft ventilation rates. There are currently no standards for onboard aircraft ventilation, but the ASHRAE committee reportedly is looking into establishing a minimum rate.

In June, The Wall Street Journal addressed the topic, rating the air quality on 11 different flights from 11 different airlines, varying in duration from two to six hours. Measured were airflow, bacteria count, mold count, and respirable particulates/contaminants.

The expert findings of the WSJ study concluded that airflow was too low for an enclosed space for virtually every flight measured. The expert determined that on Northwest Airlines, TWA, and U.S. Airways flights, the airflow was deemed “too low to measure.”

On one Southwest flight from Phoenix to Oklahoma City, airflow was acceptable, but the bacteria count was high; the same situation was found for a United flight from St. Louis to Denver.

Only the U.S. Airways flight had a mold count that was so high that experts said it could cause problems for allergy sufferers. — Ed Bas