Aircraft Pressurisation Systems
From SKYbrary Wiki
A system which ensures the comfort and safety of crew and passengers by controlling the cabin pressure and the exchange of air from the inside of the aircraft to the outside.
Aircraft engines become more efficient with increase in altitude, burning less fuel for a given airspeed. In addition, by flying above weather and associated turbulence, the flight is smoother and the aircraft less fatigued. Crews will therefore normally fly as close to the aircraft’s Cruise Ceiling as they can depending on flight rules and any other constraints such as the aircraft oxygen system. In order to be able to fly at high attitudes, the aircraft needs to be pressurised so that the crew and passengers can breathe without the need for supplemental oxygen.
The cabin and cargo holds (or baggage compartments) on most aircraft are contained within a sealed unit which is capable of containing air under pressure higher than the Ambient Pressure outside of the aircraft. Bleed Air from the turbine engines is used to pressurise the cabin and air is released from the cabin by an Outflow Valve. By using a cabin pressure regulator, to manage the flow of air through the outflow valve, the pressure within the aircraft can be increased or decreased as required, either to maintain a set Differential Pressure or a set Cabin Altitude.
In practice, as an aircraft climbs, for the comfort of the passengers, the pressurisation system will gradually increase the cabin altitude and the differential pressure at the same time. If the aircraft continues to climb once the maximum differential pressure is reached, the differential pressure will be maintained while the cabin altitude climbs. The maximum cruise altitude will be limited by the need to keep the cabin altitude at or below 8,000 ft.
A safety valve:
- acts as a relief valve, releasing air from the cabin to prevent the cabin pressure from exceeding the maximum differential pressure,
- acts a vacuum relief valve, allowing air into the cabin when the ambient pressure exceeds the cabin pressure, and
- acts as a dump valve, allowing the crew to dump cabin air manually.
A Cabin Altimeter, Differential Pressure Gauge, and Cabin Rate of Climb gauge help the crew to monitor the aircraft pressurisation.
- Explosive Depressurisation
- Rapid Depressurisation
- Gradual Depressurisation
- Loss of Cabin Pressurisation
- Aircraft Oxygen Systems
Accident & Incidents
Events held on the SKYbrary A&I database which include reference to the air conditioning system include:
- B733, en-route, northwest of Athens Greece, 2005 (On 14 August 2005, a Boeing 737-300 was released to service with the cabin pressurisation set to manual. This abnormal setting was not detected by the flight crew involved during standard checks. They took no corrective action after take-off when a cabin high altitude warning occurred. The crew lost consciousness as the aircraft climbed on autopilot and after eventual fuel exhaustion, the aircraft departed controlled flight and impacted terrain. The Investigation found that inadequate crew performance had occurred within a context of systemic organisational safety deficiencies at the Operator compounded by inadequate regulatory oversight.)
- A320, en-route, west southwest of Karachi Pakistan, 2018 (On 5 March 2018, the crew of an Airbus A320 in descent towards Karachi observed a slow but continuous drop in cabin pressure which eventually triggered an excessive cabin altitude warning which led them to don oxygen masks, commence an emergency descent and declare a PAN to ATC until the situation had been normalised. The Investigation found that the cause was the processing of internally corrupted data in the active cabin pressure controller which had used a landing field elevation of over 10,000 feet. It noted that Airbus is developing a modified controller that will prevent erroneous data calculations occurring.)
- B738, Glasgow UK, 2012 (On 19 October 2012, a Jet2-operated Boeing 737-800 departing Glasgow made a high speed rejected take off when a strange smell became apparent in the flight deck and the senior cabin crew reported what appeared to be smoke in the cabin. The subsequent emergency evacuation resulted in one serious passenger injury. The Investigation was unable to conclusively identify a cause of the smoke and the also- detected burning smells but excess moisture in the air conditioning system was considered likely to have been a factor and the Operator subsequently made changes to its maintenance procedures.)
- B738, en-route, near Sydney Australia 2018 (On 12 July 2018, a Boeing 737-800 was climbing through FL135 soon after takeoff from Sydney with First Officer line training in progress when the cabin altitude warning horn sounded because both air conditioning packs had not been switched on. The Captain took control and descended the aircraft to FL100 until the situation had been normalised and the intended flight was completed. The Investigation noted that although both pilots were experienced in command on other aircraft types, both had limited time on the 737 and concluded that incorrect system configuration was consequent on procedures and checklists not being managed appropriately.)
- A319, en-route, east of Dublin Ireland, 2008 (On 27 May 2008 an Airbus A319-100 being operated by Germanwings on a scheduled passenger flight from Dublin to Cologne was 30nm east of Dublin and passing FL100 in the climb in unrecorded daylight flight conditions when the Purser advised the flight crew by intercom that “something was wrong”, that almost all the passengers had fallen asleep, and that at least one of the cabin crew seated nearby was “unresponsive”. Following a review of this information and a check of the ECAM pressurisation page which showed no warnings or failures, a decision was taken to don oxygen masks and the aircraft returned uneventfully to Dublin without any further adverse effects on the 125 occupants. A MAYDAY was declared during the diversion.)