European aircraft manufacturer Airbus and TAP Air Portugal are investigating reports the new A330neo aircraft is causing cabin crew, pilots and passengers to feel nauseous and sick and even pass out in some rare cases. According to the Portuguese newspaper Publico, a number of complaints have been made to the National Civil Aviation Authority and that both the European Air Safety Agency and even Airbus are carrying out investigations to work out what’s going on.
Apparently, the current theory points to a problem with the amount of air being drawn into the cabin from the engines in a process that is known as “bleed air”. It’s possible that not enough high-quality air is being pumped into the cabin, causing hypoxia-like symptoms, especially on ultra-long-haul flights such as those currently being operated by TAP Air Portugal.
In one case, Publico says that pilots put on oxygen masks, while in other cases the newspaper says cabin crew have passed out because of the problems. The president of the National Union of Civil Aviation Flight Personnel or SNPVAC claims that the reports concerning the A330neo are different from normal passenger sickness or turbulence that is an everyday event.
TAP Air Portugal has confirmed that it has received complaints from crew, saying in a statement:
“The fact that, 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 shortly after the first use”.
The airline says it “would never put their clients and employees at risk for their health.”
In fact, TAP even called in Airbus who carried out an investigation and put the A330neos through a series of tests. “All analyzes made by Airbus with the support of independent laboratories indicate that the air quality parameters are within the normal range in the industry,” the airline said.
“In the various tests carried out by Airbus on the ground and in flight, as to possible sources of discomfort, such as flow and distribution of air or temperature control, the results were of full compliance.”
“The experience and comfort of air circulation in the A330neo is equal to that of the previous A330 generation”, the statement continued.
In the last few weeks, TAP Air Portugal took delivery of its 10th A330neo after becoming the launch customer of the aircraft type in October 2018. The airline has a total of 21 A330neos on order and plans to use them mainly on flights between Portugal and the America’s – particularly, ultra-long-haul flights to Brazil.
Airbus has won a number of high-profile customers for the A330neo including Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic and Emirates. The aircraft manufacturer says the A330neo offers passengers “the best in class comfort”.
So far, it doesn’t look like any ‘fix’ has been identified and that TAP thinks this is just a short-term issue as any teething problems are worked out on the new aircraft. It will be interesting to see whether this problem affects crew and passengers on A330neos operated by other carriers – that could prove to be a much bigger headache for Airbus.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.