The average flight altitude of a passenger plane is 9-12 thousand meters. The air in this part of the atmosphere is already considerably rarefied, and its temperature is below – 45 degrees Celsius. Nevertheless, conditions in the airliner cabin are always relatively comfortable. This is due not only to good insulation but also to a sophisticated system that allows us to convert the air overboard into the air that is suitable for breathing.
The air we breathe, especially in confined spaces, has a huge impact on our health and well-being. Given the enclosed space of an airplane cabin, some people are concerned that it is somehow more likely to hold pathogens or viruses than a more spacious or naturally ventilated space. But that’s not always the case, especially on a private plane.
So it will be good to know that air quality is carefully monitored when flying in airplanes, and the latest innovations make it even cleaner.
Where does the air in airplanes come from?
We all know that airplane cabins are enclosed spaces. Even if the flight is very short, the plane has to take off, fly the required distance, and land at another airport, and this will take at least 30 minutes. All that time, passengers naturally need to breathe. Actually, people started to worry about the air issue even more after the Coronavirus pandemic. People have seriously begun to wonder where aircraft cabin air comes from.
There’s no mystery: for passengers to breathe fresh air in the cabin, the air is supplied from the outside. As the plane gains altitude, the air doesn’t change at all. It still contains 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen. The only problem is that at this altitude, the pressure is very low, about 4 times lower, and it is difficult for a person to breathe such oxygen.
In order for passengers to breathe air comfortably in the cabin, compressors work. They compress the air from the atmosphere, and the density of oxygen in it increases to those marks, at which oxygen is already quite enough for normal breathing of a healthy person.
That is, the air in the plane is taken overboard, but before you breathe it for the first time, it passes through the compressor.
How is the air cleaned in planes?
There are 2 air purification options that help ensure clean and fresh air in airplane cabins. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of these cleaning systems.
Most private airplanes are equipped with one of two options:
- A system that provides 100% clean air
- A system that recirculates the air, like cars
We have to assure you that each cabin air system provides enough good air purification so that you can avoid illnesses and viruses. Some of the newest models of private jets have a feature that allows switching between systems.
The 100% Clean Air System
We’ve written before that any fresh air for the cabin is taken from outside the aircraft. But different systems use that air in different ways.
In a system that offers us complete air replacement, the air is purified in the following way:
- First, the outside air is drawn in by the air intakes on the aircraft’s wings.
- Then it is fed through the airplane’s engines. Since the temperature of the air overboard can drop to -45 degrees or below, while passing through the engine, the air is heated.
- Then, in the special compressors, which we mentioned above, the air is compressed and sterilized and passes to the air conditioning unit, where the desired temperature is regulated.
The cabin air system uses openings and valves that allow the air in and out of the cabin to be drawn in and out at the same time. This usually results in a complete air change in airplanes every 2 minutes. And because the air is refreshed every 2 minutes, this minimizes the spread of viruses and bacteria.
Charter Jets, Inc. has aircraft that use this filtration system, as it is installed in all Gulfstream aircraft models. The developers of these planes, 2020, said they would make the air in their airplanes even cleaner to fight Coronavirus. They are developing a plasma ionization system in addition to circulating fresh air. How it works:
The new system will emit positive and negative oxygen ions that will destroy unhelpful molecules and neutralize viruses and bacteria, not only in the air but also on surfaces. The system is slated to be installed on Gulfstream’s newest aircraft, as well as some older aircraft such as the G650ER, G650, and G550.
Air recirculation systems and HEPA filters
Air recirculation is the second option for cleaning the air in airplanes. This cleaning system recirculates some of the air that is in the cabin and thereby better controls the humidity level and temperature in airplanes. This system is used in cars quite often. The operating principle of this system is very similar to the previous one:
Fresh air is drawn in still overboard through the wings and goes through all the necessary purification steps. But then, the new part of the air is mixed with the air already in the cabin, which is purified before being used again. The portion of recirculated and fresh aircraft cabin air, and in general the rate at which air changes in the cabin can be completely different and depend largely on the aircraft model.
Some private jet aircraft manufacturers have implemented HEPA filtration systems that capture bacteria, viruses, and other particles before recirculating the air.
A HEPA filter captures at least 99% of pollutants. Such filters are used in sterile areas, such as a hospital, where sterility is paramount.
Private jet models with HEPA filters include the Dassault Falcon 7X or 8X, the Textron Citation Latitude and Longitude, and, more recently, the Bombardier Global and Embraer Praetor 500/600. However, this list is not exhaustive, as many other aircraft models may be equipped with a HEPA filter.
Is the air on a private plane cleaner than on regular flights?
This issue is quite controversial. On the one hand, most of the planes that operate scheduled passenger flights are also equipped with HEPA filters in the recirculation system, so private planes don’t necessarily have a more advanced air filtration system than commercial planes.
But, on the other hand, private jets can offer you a more sterile environment. The fact is that no matter how good the air filtration is in commercial airplanes, it is still harder for the company to control the presence of viruses. You, as a passenger, are among other passengers, strangers who may spread the virus unknowingly.
Because of the large number of people on board and the time in flight, it is also much more difficult to keep sterile the most commonly used areas in the cabin, such as the tray tables, door handles, and seat backs. Thus, viruses are more easily transmitted “from hand to hand.”
On a private airplane, you fly only with your close ones in the private cabin, so exposure to other people is greatly reduced. It is also much easier for the captain and crew to monitor how the private plane is cleaned between and during the flight.
Can I be sure that I will not catch the virus on the flight?
If you fly on a commercial flight, no one can guarantee that you will not fall ill, because both at the airport and on the plane, you are accompanied by a large number of people. By flying on a private plane, you reduce the possibility of falling ill by about 5 times.
Is the filtration system on board the plane working properly?
Absolutely. In our company, all the airplanes undergo regular technical inspections, and everything is checked before the flight. We are responsible for people’s lives, so we cannot make any mistakes.
In case of an emergency, will I be told how to act?
Before every flight, our team conducts the necessary briefings on a mandatory basis. In case there is a shortage of air on board, you will be able to use an oxygen mask and breathe calmly. Such cases are very rare, but it is still necessary to know this information.