Los Angeles: UA Airbus 320 "funny" pressurization problem

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Headline: United Airliner Has Pressure Problems in Flight; Minor Injuries Reported

Source: Associated Press, 28 Mar 2001 - 04:00 PM

URL: http://ap.tbo.com/ap/breaking/MGAKGYQJVKC.html

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A United Airlines jet had to make an emergency return to Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday because of cabin pressure problems, authorities said. Seven people suffered minor injuries.

United Flight 100, bound for Orlando, Fla., and carrying 126 people, turned around about an hour into the flight, which left shortly after 9 a.m., authorities said.

Paramedics treated the injured for nosebleeds and ear aches, and six of the seven were taken to hospitals for examinations, authorities said.

Passenger Paul Lukas said the cabin pressure in the Airbus A320 kept changing as the flight took off and headed east. "There was something funny about it," said Lukas, a Torrance businessman flying to Orlando for business. "Ten minutes into the flight, the oxygen containers dropped. Then I knew something was wrong."

Before the masks dropped, Lukas said, cold air came through the ventilation system. He also noticed an odd smell, "similar to smoke."

The call came in when the plane was at 14,000 feet, said Jerry Snyder, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.

After landing, the plane taxied to a terminal and the passengers walked off the plane. An FAA inspector was at the airport, Snyder said.

The twin-engine A320, manufactured by the European consortium Airbus Industrie, seats up to 150 passengers and has a range of 3,000 nautical miles.

United Airlines spokesman Chris Braithwaite in Chicago didn't immediately return telephone calls.

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), March 28, 2001


From personal knowledge, I know that the reported "minor" injuries to passengers' ears from an airplane pressurization mishap may be major, at least in some cases. Some people may experience permanent and even disabling ear damage. But these long term tragic sequalae don't make it into news reports, nor into aviation safety mishap records.

Again, from personal knowledge, as an aircraft stress engineer at Boeing Commercial Aircraft: Severe aircraft pressurization related ear injuries weren't recognized (in 1996) by Boeing as a problem that even existed. Hence, it follows that this high cost to ultimate customers is not considered in aircraft engineering cost-benefit tradeoff judgments or design practices.

-- Robert Riggs (rxr.999@worldnet.att.net), March 29, 2001.

Agreed about the potential severity of aircraft pressure-related medical sequelae to ear/nose/sinus (the same can be said of even "shallow" SCUBA diving problems-- I'm not referring to "the bends"). Even if there are no long-term sequelae, the pain from merely clogged frontal sinuses in an aircraft can be excruciating.

What struck me about the report was the observation that "...the cabin pressure in the Airbus A320 kept changing as the flight took off..." This was clearly not a simple loss-of-pressure at altitude event. What would cause this? Problems with compressors, or ducts running off the engine? Does software control the cabin pressure mechanism?



-- Andre Weltman, M.D. (aweltman@state.pa.us), March 29, 2001.

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