A330neo crew experiencing sickness
While Boeing has been under fire for continued problems arising with its next-generation 737 MAX aircraft, the latest offerings from its main rival Airbus have been largely issue free, at least until now. Operators of the Airbus A330-900neo have recently been reporting toxic fume leakages in the aircraft’s cabin, potentially coming from the engines.
For the last four months, flight attendants, pilots and even some passengers have been feeling nauseous, dizzy and faint on TAP Air Portugal’s brand new Airbus A330neo long-haul aircraft. The symptoms are sporadic and appear to be linked to what is being described as “odour events” that are believed to be linked to the planes Rolls-Royce powered engines or possibly the air conditioning system.
TAP Air Portugal has already taken delivery of six brand new A330neo’s and was the first customer to take delivery of one in November 2018. It remains the largest operator of the aircraft, operating 10 of the 21 is has ordered in total.
The situation had reportedly become so bad that both TAP Air Portugal and Airbus launched an investigation a few weeks ago, and the European Air Safety Authority has been briefed on the situation. On at least one occasion, media reports out of Portugal claim pilots have been forced to don oxygen masks because of the fumes (here, on August 4th), while on other occasions flight attendants have fainted or felt dizzy and fatigued while working on the A330neo.
A spokesperson for TAP, however, claims that “exhaustive” tests have revealed that the air quality on its A330Nneo’s is within recommended limits and that experts have been unable to find any link between the “odour events” and reports of crew illness. “The test results analysis, provided by an independent and recognised laboratory, showed the absence of any hazardous air contamination,” a spokesperson for the airline explains.
A statement provided by aerospace giant Airbus also refutes any link between the odours and crew or passenger sickness. “The manufacturer (Airbus) ensures that the smell and sickness are not directly correlated with each other and that both Airbus and TAP reject that there is a detrimental effect on the health of crew and passengers”, the Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias was told.
Yet, despite these test results, Airbus has told TAP Air Portugal that while it has put the strange smells down to the engines and air conditioning system, it still cannot “rule out other potential causes for the problem”. Airbus says it is planning on putting in mitigating solutions as soon as possible. Monitoring equipment remains on board in a bid to identify exactly what is going on, and it will be interesting to see what the results are.
The airline shared the full test results with staff last week in a bid to be seen as ” fully open and transparent” about the situation. The union who represent many TAP cabin crew say that they might stage a strike unless action to remedy the situation isn’t taken “in a very short time”. There are suggestions that crew sickness is being caused by a lack of oxygen in the cabin – referred to as hypoxia. The Association of Portuguese Airline Pilots says it is seeking independent analysis and testing to get to the bottom of what’s causing these problems.
AirlineGeeks report that the issue is presumed to have caused flight diversions and cancellations for at least one operator, with some A330neos returning home to Toulouse for inspection and repair. They claim that the problem is the aircraft’s Rolls Royce Trent 7000 engines in the form of leaking fuel, according to a source familiar with the issue. The website says that while no official reports have indicated the engines, exclusively found on this type of plane, are at fault, the embattled engine manufacturer is still recovering from fan blade issues with the engines found on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft that have led to airlines seeking interim replacements.
Rolls-Royce issued this statement to AirlineGeeks, “Rolls-Royce complies with strict aviation regulations which dictate the quality of the air being fed to the aircraft from the engines, ensuring passengers and aircrew are transported in comfort and safety. The cabin air environment is controlled to a higher standard than those applied by health and safety regulators for most other workplaces. Detailed research and testing has produced no conclusive evidence of a risk from cabin air quality to the health and safety of aircrew or passengers. Rolls-Royce works with aviation regulatory and industry partners to support ongoing research into cabin air quality.”
An Airbus spokesperson told AirlineGeeks, “The A330neo is certified by the authorities and safe to fly and all Airbus cabins are designed to prevent air contamination. Airbus is constantly working with customers to ensure full customer satisfaction.”
Although additional checks might inevitably delay the delivery of new orders and the beginning of operations for new airframes, the severity of the issues is yet to be known. Delta Air Lines, the only U.S. carrier to have taken delivery of the type with two in its fleet and an order for 35 airframes, told AirlineGeeks the aircraft is scheduled to begin revenue service on July 31 as planned, with flights between Seattle and Shanghai. If they encounter similar problems it could be embarrassing for the manufacturer, who has returned one aircraft to its Toulouse base for a month of testing.