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ASHRAE Research Project · May 25, 2004

Is the temperature on your flight too cold?

How is the lighting? How would you rate the overall air quality?

Beginning soon, passengers and flight crew on four flights out of Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Chicago and Seattle will be surveyed on their experiences with cabin air quality.

This information is part of research examining the link between cabin air quality and health being conducted by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. The research will be used in writing ASHRAE’s proposed standard on cabin air, 161P, Air Quality Within Commercial Aircraft.

Passengers and crew will be asked about their air travel history, health, comfort during flights, and lifestyles and living environments. Participation will be voluntary, and names of passengers and crew are not requested.

The study addresses concerns about the possible link between the aircraft cabin environment and the comfort and health of passengers and crew, according to Chet Spicer, Ph.D., principal investigator for Battelle, the research organization conducting the study for ASHRAE.

In the past, passengers and crew members have questioned the association between the cabin environment and the comfort and health of the flying public. Providing well-documented answers to these questions will require taking measurements and conducting surveys on a large number of flights, Spicer said.

“This study is the first step in that direction,” he said. “We’ll measure numerous chemicals in the cabin air, as well as other factors, such as temperature, humidity, noise, light levels and motion, that could influence flyers’ comfort and health.”

While passengers and crew have reported symptoms such as eye, nose and throat irritation, respiratory distress, headache, fatigue, dizziness and nausea, research by government agencies, research groups and airplane manufacturers have not shown associations between cabin air quality and reported symptoms.

In January 2004, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) called for more research on the effects of air quality on airliner cabin occupants.

GAO recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develop plans for research and surveillance on cabin air quality, improve the public’s access to information on the health risks of flying, and assess the costs and benefits of requiring high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in commercial aircraft.

ASHRAE is working with the FAA, which is sponsoring a parallel effort through a new Center of Excellence for Airliner Cabin Environment Research it hopes to establish later this year.

ASHRAE also is collaborating with NASA and its Jet Propulsion Lab on a study developing chemical/biological sensors for aircraft. NASA needs background measurements on biological and chemicals on-board commercial aircraft. The ASHRAE research originally focused only on chemical measurements, but will expand to include biological measurements through its work with NASA.

The research is a two-part project. The second part will involve selection of a larger number of aircraft and flight routes and include monitoring of cabin air and data analysis.

This is the third cabin air study conducted by ASHRAE. Earlier projects explored the relationships between measured air quality data and perceived symptoms on aircraft. For more info visit ASHRAE Webpage www.ashrae.org

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