Will electric planes really be the norm?

European standard is supposed to bring healthier cabin air

The aviation industry and workers' organizations have been fighting over the risk of polluted cabin air for years. «Not really measurable», it says on the one hand, «clearly harmful to health», on the other. A kind of war of faith is raging around the topic of aerotoxic syndrome.

The background to the dispute is the way in which breathing air is generated in most modern aircraft - with the exception of the Boeing 787. It is obtained unfiltered from the engines. The technical term for this is called bleed air. If engine oil burns, poisonous fumes with the neurotoxin TCP may be produced. And these can get into the passenger compartment via this mechanism.

No binding regulation

Indeed, there are occasional instances where passengers, flight attendants, and pilots complain of inexplicable, sudden drowsiness, headaches, and nausea. But how dangerous is that really and is it really the fault of the bleed air? "The incidence of incapacity for work and death is 400 percent higher for pilots than for occupational groups that are not exposed to such fumes," says British expert Susan Michaelis. According to industry representatives, there is no demonstrable connection between cabin air and health problems.

Nevertheless, a working group of the European Committee for Standardization CEN has been working on a standard for cabin air under the project name TC 436 for six years. And in September she apparently wants to submit her first proposal for a regulation, writes the newspaper Handelsblatt. But it will not be binding. Because to do this, the EU Commission would have to officially prescribe it.

Among other things, better education

But that is hardly to be expected. The scientific evidence for the aerotoxic syndrome and the industry's defensive stance are too unclear. In the end, it will therefore stick to recommendations. Only better maintenance, better training and employee awareness should be prescribed, according to the Handelsblatt.