Cabin-air system thwarts airborne viruses, bacteria

Dubai Air Show » 2009
November 12, 2009, 12:17 AM

BAE Systems and Quest International of the UK have combined to launch a cabin air system that they say can destroy airborne viruses and bacteria, including H1N1 (swine flu), SARS, bird flu and eColi. AirManager has been flight-tested on BAE 146/ Avro RJ regional airliners operated by five European carriers, and one undisclosed carrier has selected it for its fleet.

Following recent approval by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), BAE holds an STC to install the system on the 146/Avro RJ family as well as the Boeing 757, and has indicated it is willing to seek an STC for other aircraft types, including other airliners and business jets. Over the next 12 months it intends to gain STCs for 737s and 747s, as well as the narrow- and widebodied Airbus family.

BAE Systems Regional Aircraft business has agreed to be the worldwide distributor for AirManager for an initial five-year period. The company has already installed AirManager on the fleet of corporate/VIP 146/ Avro RJs in its lease portfolio.

AirManager uses Quest’s patented close-coupled field technology through which a contained electrical field breaks down the molecular structure of airborne pathogens, contaminants and toxins and destroys them. It also includes three electrostatic filter elements and eliminates smells in the process and recycles cabin air every two or three minutes.

The unit screens air coming into the cabin after the door is closed. For an aircraft the size of a 146/Avro RJ, two units, each costing approximately $16,000, are required; a 757 would need five. Installation can be done during overnight line maintenance with labor costs of about 20 man-hours.

Each unit weighs about 10 pounds, but adds only about four pounds to overall weight once installation is complete. AirManager draws just 3.7 Watts of electrical power and because it also has a minimal impact in terms of cabin pressure drop of just 1.1 percent (compared to a traditional air-filtration system), it promises fuel savings that could recover the cost of the system in a year of airline operations. According to Sean McGovern, operations director with BAE Systems Regional Aircraft, using AirManager also means there is less stress on an aircraft’s environmental control system because it improves air flows and reduces back pressure on the system yielding lower operating and maintenance costs.

“We’ve all come off an aircraft with flu,” said Quest International director David Hallam, who invented AirManager. “There is a soup [of bad air] aboard an aircraft. [Even] the air [outside the aircraft] isn’t very good at 35,000 feet. What we need us an active system that doesn’t rely just on filters. We can move around the world very quickly these days and so can bacteria.”

Quest believes AirManager can provide 99.999 percent protection against all bacteria and viruses, killing them with a single pass through the system. It breaks down and removes particles smaller than 0.1 micron, which is equivalent to a single particle of cigarette smoke.

BAE and Quest have spent four years testing the system to be certain that it can deal with a wide range of bacteria, viruses and spores. AirManager can also eliminate harmful fumes from sources such as anti-icing fluids and emissions from the auxiliary power unit. However, BAE said the system was not developed specifically to address cabin and cockpit fume problems experienced with the 146/AvroRJ fleet about five years ago, which was resolved by changing the type of engine seal.

Research in Europe and the U.S. has uncovered links between toxins found in aircraft and neurological damage suffered by pilots.

There are currently no regulations governing the quality of cabin and cockpit air. McGovern predicted that EASA and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration will probably be pressed to take such an initiative, but he said it would likely require interaction between the aviation agencies and world health bodies.

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