TWU-Backed Bill Would Keep Engine Fumes Out of Passenger Planes

May 23, 2024
Bleed air systems, which feed compressed high temperature air into a plane’s cabin, are used on most commercial planes. Problems occur when bleed air systems become contaminated.

The Transport Workers Union is backing a bill from Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) that would require new aircraft to be built with electrical systems that provide clean, unpolluted air inside cabins – phasing out current bleed air systems that funnel pressurized air from aircraft engine compressors. Engine-compressed air can become toxic when oil or hydraulic fluid leaks occur. 

The new bill, the Safe Air on Airplanes Act, will be introduced on Thursday, May 23 and unveiled at a press conference at the House Triangle on Capitol Hill. The press conference will be livestreamed at 1pm ET on Rep. Frost’s X (formerly Twitter) account. TWU International Vice President and Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant Thom McDaniel will join elected officials at the press conference.  

Flight attendants and the traveling public are frequently forced to deal with toxic cabin air when a bleed air system used for cabin air and pressurization is contaminated. Bleed air systems, which feed compressed high temperature air into a plane’s cabin, are used on most commercial planes. The Boeing 787 currently uses electrical systems to replace most of the bleed air on the plane, and the bill would require aircraft to eventually be built with these systems instead of using air that can become contaminated.  

“Our flight attendants and airline workers have dealt with toxic air on board aircraft for years, risking serious health issues due to prolonged exposure. This bill would create better working conditions for everyone on board – along with the traveling public who also suffers when contaminated air seeps into the cabin,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen.  

The new bill builds on recent language in the five-year Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization that became law. The new law compels the FAA administrator to finish a long overdue study on bleed air and implement a reporting system for toxic air events on board commercial planes. The National Academies are required to conduct a study and issue recommendations to the FAA regarding toxic air events. The FAA administrator may issue a proposed rulemaking based on the findings of the study.  

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) are cosponsoring Frost’s bill. The bill gradually requires new aircraft to phase out bleed air systems. Within 10 years of the bill’s enactment, at least 25 percent of new aircraft must be manufactured without bleed air systems, gradually increasing to 100 percent of newly manufactured aircraft 30 years after bill’s enactment.