Aircraft cabin air systems are key in the reduction of dust, fibers, bacteria, and other microorganisms that would otherwise be present in an aircraft fuselage. They also play an important role in the simple act of breathing itself. At 35,000 feet, a fairly average cruising altitude, air pressure is low enough that even breathing pure oxygen would not provide your body with a sufficient amount of air. For this reason, all airline cabins are pressurized and require an intricate air system to pump in breathable air for passengers and all others aboard.
A typical commercial cabin air recirculation system consists of air made up of approximately 50% outside air and 50% filtered/recirculated air. The outside air is called bleed air and comes from the engine’s compressor or the auxiliary power unit. The process of pressurizing this air heats it to high temperatures, making cooling a necessity before it is allowed to flow into the cabin. The cabin air filters are typically found in the recirculation loop, a section near the mixing unit either underneath or above the main passenger cabin. Particulate contaminants and odor-causing organisms can enter the cabin from outside via the air system. This is why each system features an air purification system.
The large number of passengers in the cabin produce high concentrations of dust, bacteria, and other airborne microorganisms. Despite this, aircraft are no more germ-infested than any other enclosed space. In fact, they are more likely to be cleaner. For instance, all Boeing passenger aircraft are equipped with a high-energy particulate air (HEPA) filter which Boeing claims removes 99.9% of onboard contaminants. These filters also constantly recycle the air in the cabin, providing cleaner air than an average office, classroom, or movie theater.
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