If you are in the field of aviation maintenance, you may have had people ask you if it’s true that flying makes you sick? While the simple answer is “yes”, many want an actual explanation for why this is the case. If you are looking to give an explanation, start with increased cabin pressure.
People forget how high off the ground they really are when flying at 35,000 feet. During flight, the human body is being subjected to a completely different environment than design intended. On the ground, air pressure changes occur at a gradual pace. On take-off or touchdown, these changes are extremely quick – the body can only adjust so fast. This is experienced most prominently when crossing the 6,000 feet barrier – when the aircraft pressure units respond.
The secret to combating the ear, stomach, and head pain that can come with flying is by increasing cabin pressure over the minimum standard. What does this entail for the maintenance crew? The biggest change will happen on large, luxury aircraft, such as the 787 or A380. These aircraft have been specifically designed to provide a more comfortable experience for passengers, especially on long flights. As the settings for cabin pressure in these types of aircraft is increased, adjustments may need to be made to equipment and settings.
The environmental control system (ECS) is responsible for the cabin pressure, air supply, and heat control on an aircraft. The standard pressure, referred to as ‘cabin altitude”, is set at 8,000 feet – which is 10.9 pounds per square inch. This measurement simulates air pressure to an amount that is tolerable. To increase pressure, the ECS is set at a lower cabin altitude – which makes the passenger feel as if they aren’t nearly as far above sea level.
While it is possible to set a lower cabin altitude on large planes, this is not the case for all aircraft. Each aircraft is built to withstand a specific air pressure. The amount is determined by the flexibility and structural integrity of each aircraft. The larger planes mentioned previously were built to specifications that allow for lower cabin altitude. Although new aircraft take many years to come to fruition, we are hopeful to see what new aircraft will offer to make flying a more enjoyable experience.