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Individual climate control for airline passengers is on the horizon

13 September 2012

Air temperature and quality in airliners is a frequent source of complaint, but future passengers may be able to set their own individual climate controls.

Live testing at Fraunhofer's Flight Test Facility in Valley
Live testing at Fraunhofer's Flight Test Facility in Valley

At the moment, an airliner's interior climate can only be set universally across the cabin. However, according to Fraunhofer researchers, passengers will soon be able to modulate it individually, including control over air temperature, purity, speed of flow and humidity.

Technologies needed for this are currently being developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP in Valley, working in a consortium of nine partners from universities and the aviation industry, and under the auspices of iSPACE, a project funded by the EC.

At the moment, passengers can only manipulate an air jet in the ceiling, which blows air directly onto their heads, creating drafts and noise. Researchers have now integrated air inlets into the seat’s armrests, into the back rests of the seat in front and, in first class, also into gooseneck cables that currently house reading lamps.

Researchers have also simulated and studied the 'age' of air particles and studied how long the air remains within a certain region with particular ventilation systems.

The systems that delivered the most promising results in the simulations were then subjected to live testing at Fraunhofer's Flight Test Facility in Valley. Here a 30m long low-pressure tube can be evacuated to 150 hectopascals, thus replicating an altitude of up to 13,000m. Temperature and humidity can also be set to simulate flight conditions.

The researchers and their partners are using this facility to test their technologies. Some 50 test subjects participated in each of three different 'flights' at an ordinary 'cabin pressure altitude' of 2,100m, and were able to test which system best enabled them to attain their optimum personalised climate settings.

Visitors to the ILA Berlin Air Show (September 11 - 16) can try out the newly adapted seats in Hall 3, Booth 3221.

The researchers warn, however, that it may take a few years yet before these technologies are actually adopted by the aircraft manufacturers.

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