Ground service providers are exposed to a range of contaminants when maintaining aircraft water and lavatory systems. Alicia Hammond takes a look at how the oversight agencies, airport authorities, and regulations interact with those who service the aircraft.
As integral as lavatory and water carts and trucks are to aviation ground support teams, training on how the equipment works and how it is supposed to be operated and maintained is often minimal as is the training on compliance with regulations specific to this area of aircraft servicing. Add to this mix, the various agencies and organizations that issue regulations can get confusing in their regulatory development and implementation - different rules can apply at different stages of the procedures.
Of the two, water carts and trucks seem to have more consistent regulations for use of the equipment. Yet questions remain if these regulations are being accurately followed. A recent article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal claimed that water on airlines is unsafe to drink. After testing water on 20 different airlines traveling around the world, various bacteria were found in quantities that exceed U.S. government standards. While these findings were studied informally, they have brought attention to an area often taken for granted.
The problem is the finger of blame cannot be pointed at one specific place concerning occurrences of contamination. David Yuhasz, President of the Georgia-based, Aerosafe Products, agrees that contamination is a hard thing to track down. "Where or how bacteria gets into water is unknown and could come from many different places or people," Yuhasz says.
Yuhasz offers that in order to keep the equipment clean, water carts and trucks need to be disinfected every 30 to 45 days and the aircraft tanks every 60 to 90 days. Yet, much more than simple disinfection is required to keep contamination from the drinking water supply.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) are the two agencies in charge of regulating water on
airlines, including the transportation and storage of water for drinkable and
non-drinkable sources. The FDA is accountable for managing the sanitary practices
and quality of airports' water facilities.
The EPA is responsible for the water onboard and requires airlines to clean tanks quarterly and confirm that their water complies with federal standards. Most of the monitoring is left to the airlines. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is also involved and requires airlines to clean and flush their onboard tanks approximately every 12 to 14 months.
The FDA has specific guidelines covering aircraft drinking water service vehicles. While these regulations are responsible for keeping the equipment free from possible contamination, the EPA regulates the water systems for quality in carrier watering points and onboard carrier drinking water suitability. As the water used in airplanes is constantly crossing borders, compliance falls under the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act on Interstate Carrier Conveyance.
Since the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA has been responsible for regulating public water systems serving airplanes but also for regulating the potable water quality onboard the conveyances. The National Primary Drinking Water Regulations say that while a state may be given authority to enforce regulations, enforcement authority over all public water systems on interstate carriers is specifically delegated to the EPA.
The EPA has reached settlements with airlines to ensure the safety of drinking water used by their passengers and crew.