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UK begins probe into aeroplane air quality

Chicken, vegetarian or volatile organic compounds?

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The UK government is paying Cranfield University to investigate air quality on aeroplanes amid concerns that dangerous contaminated air could be endangering pilot and passenger health.

Professor Helen Muir is running the probe. Researchers will look at BAe 146 cargo and passenger planes, B757 cargo and passenger planes and Airbus A321s as a control.

Five airlines have agreed to take part in the research. Samples will be collected this year and the results published in 2009. Equipment will collect overall levels of volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds as well as look for "fume events". These events are believed to be caused by engine oil or hydraulic fluid fumes getting into cabin air supplies.

Fume events have only been reported in one in 2,000 flights. Surprisingly, given the infrequency of these events, researchers have already been on one flight where the pilot reported a strange smell - in fact, it was a test flight for the equipment they'll be using in the research.

Professor Muir noticed that the plane had made an especially steep take-off and wondered if this could have an effect. She has asked a statistician to crunch flight data recorder information alongside reports of fume events to see if there is a link, according to the BBC.

The probe is expected to cost about £200,000. ®

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