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:
- B764, en-route, Audincourt France, 2017 (On 23 August 2017, a Boeing 767-400ER which had departed Zurich for a transatlantic crossing experienced a problem with cabin pressurisation as the aircraft approached FL 100 and levelled off to run the applicable checklist. However, despite being unable to confirm that the pressurisation system was functioning normally, the climb was then re-commenced resulting in a recurrence of the same problem and a MAYDAY emergency descent from FL 200. The Investigation found that an engineer had mixed up which pressurisation system valve was to be de-activated before departure and that the flight crew decision to continue the climb had been risky.)
- E190, en-route, southwest of Turku Finland, 2017 (On 3 December 2017, an Embraer E190 en-route at FL310 was already turning back to Helsinki because of a burning smell in the flight deck when smoke in the cabin was followed by smoke in the flight deck. A MAYDAY was declared to ATC reporting “fire on board” and their suggested diversion to Turku was accepted. The situation initially improved but worsened after landing prompting a precautionary emergency evacuation. The Investigation subsequently attributed the smoke to a malfunctioning air cycle machine. Issues with inaccessible cabin crew smoke hoods and with the conduct and aftermath of the evacuation were also identified.)
- 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.)
- B744, en-route, South China Sea, 2008 (On 25 July 2008, a Boeing 747 suffered a rapid depressurisation of the cabin following the sudden failure of an oxygen cylinder, which had ruptured the aircraft's pressure hull. The incident occurred 475 km north-west of Manila, Philippines.)
- A320, en route, north of Marseilles France, 2013 (On 12 September 2013, pressurisation control failed in an A320 after a bleed air fault occurred following dispatch with one of the two pneumatic systems deactivated under MEL provisions. The Investigation found that the cause of the in-flight failure was addressed by an optional SB not yet incorporated. Also, relevant crew response SOPs lacking clarity and a delay in provision of a revised MEL procedure meant that use of the single system had not been optimal and after a necessary progressive descent to FL100 was delayed by inadequate ATC response, and ATC failure to respond to a PAN call required it to be upgraded to MAYDAY.)