The Airbus A330neo Air Circulation System May Be Causing Illness

Investigations continue following reports of passengers and crew feeling unwell while aboard TAP’s new A330neo.

TAP A330neo on runway
Dizziness and sickness reported on 12 separate occasions, according to TAP. Photo: TAP

Over the last few months TAP Air Portugal has received 12 separate complaints, according to Live and Let’s Fly. Sickness on board TAP’s new A330neo was reported exclusively on long-haul flights. The complaints, made by both passengers and crew, were of feelings of dizziness and subsequent vomiting.

The most recent event took place on the 25th June, writes Portuguese newspaper Público. The crew of a TAP flight to Brazil began to feel nauseated and the pilot was spotted “wearing a mask”. Público also relayed an eye-witness account of one of the crew passing out.

Not air sickness

The president of the National Union of Civil Aviation Flight Personnel (SNPVAC), Luciana Passo told reporters that of the cases so far reported the phase of flight during which sickness occurred varied from case to case.

It is evident that there are crew members and passengers who get sick at certain stages of flight with more moderate or more severe turbulence,” Passo told Público.

But the reports we have are not related to this, but to the normal course of long-haul and long-haul flights operated in this type of equipment.

Fit to fly

Airbus certified TAP’s A330neo at the end of 2018 and delivered to the airline the first A330neo in November of the same year. The 12 complaints were received throughout the first quarter of 2019. In May, TAP union members visited Airbus in an attempt to find answers.

Interior cabin A330neo
TAP denies link between sickness and faulty systems. Photo: TAP

Airbus consequently launched its own month-long investigation of the A330neo at the end of May. So far the manufacturer has found nothing untoward about the type. But a final inspection report is expected by the end of July.

The 12 cases have also been reported to the National Civil Aviation Authority (ANAC) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

What is the cause?

Público suggests the cause of the un-wellness may be related to the A330neo’s air injection system. It opines that the external air drawn in via the engines is somehow “degraded”. This would correlate with the reported sickness experienced solely on long-haul flights.

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However, Passo admitted it was unlikely that defective air filtration was to blame. To Público he said, “All analyses made by Airbus with the support of independent laboratories indicate that the air quality parameters are within the normal range in the industry.”

TAP also denied the suggestion of a link between sickness and faulty equipment, although hinted that it could well be an air circulation matter.

A spokesperson for the airline told Portuguese news agency Lusa: “In some new units of the A330neo, some odors from air-conditioning equipment may have been detected. It is considered normal in new aircraft and disappears soon after first use.

TAP would never put its customers and workers at risk for their health.”

TAP A330 on runway
TAP’s A330neos appear to be the only aircraft affected. Photo: TAP

Speculation

Whatever the cause, it seems only to have affected the A330neos belonging to TAP. The other three users of the type – Air Senegal, Air Mauritius, Azul Brazilian Airlines – have not reported any problems.

Some industry observers surmise the cause of the nausea and dizziness is not linked to the plane’s air system, but to the newness of the interior fixtures. Fabric and adhesives used in the assembly of the cabins may instead be to blame.

Others speculate that an oil leak in the APU could be releasing noxious fumes into the cabin’s air supply. We wrote in April this year about how aerotoxicity can kill.

Investigations by TAP and Airbus continue. Meanwhile TAP announced in the middle of June its receipt of three more A330neos.

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Matt

12 people on a widebody airliner were sick after the flight? I would think that it would be news if less than 12 people became sick on a widebody flight. Passengers carry all sorts of illnesses onboard. This is really news?

Nigel

Sounds to me like outgassing from plastics in the interior, which are still new. It might be a good idea to check which plastics/processes are being used by the supplier being used by TAP…some plastics are more prone to this than others.

Joanna Bailey

Possibly, someone else said maybe the adhesives used in the cabin / upholstering process… I’m sure it’s not a flaw with the aircraft – no other operators have had issues AFAIK.

Nigel

Yes, outgassing/fumes from adhesives and/or paint is also a possible culprit. Plasticisers in synthetic rubbers can also produce dangerous fumes.

Luis

I was on a TAP flight three days ago and as soon as the air was turned on almost everyone started sneezing and scratching their eyes. Three days later and my wife and daughter are still suffering with what looks like an allergic reaction in their respiratory system. They have had sneezing fits, swollen eyes, blocked nose and had to use an inhaller several times. The symptoms are not those of a cold or a flu and they started as soon as the ventillation system was turned on so obviously not a viral infection.