How Are Air Filters Used in Aircraft?

Posted on October 31, 2022 James Williams How Are Air Filters Used in Aircraft?

When aircraft fly at the high altitudes that they typically operate at, atmospheric air is not in a  condition that is safe for humans to breathe. This is because of low air pressure and temperatures, making it important that fuselages are sealed and pressurized. To supply breathable air to passengers, atmospheric air or engine bleed air is fed through a number of devices that ensures that it is pressurized, heated, etc. before being vented into the cabin. In order to keep passengers comfortable, healthy, and safe, the air supplied to the cabin needs to be cleaned of any impurities or particulate matter. To do this, aircraft utilize air filters.

The filters that are found within aircraft cabins are specifically designed for such applications, and they often differ from the various filters that may be found in automobiles and other applications. As stated before, one of the main sources of cabin air is bleed air, that of which sources from the intake system of the engine. While most air that enters the engine will be compressed and mixed with fuel for combustion, a portion will be rerouted through various ducts that lead to the cabin prior to entering the combustion chamber. To ensure that this fuel is contaminate-free, it will need to be passed through air filters.
While atmospheric air offers a near limitless supply of oxygen, around half of the oxygen in the cabin will actually be recirculated. While this recycling of air can save resources, it also opens up the risk of pathogens and other particles being spread. As a result, aircraft utilize High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that ensure the highest quality breathable air. HEPA filters are designed to handle dust, fibers, allergens, and microbes, guaranteeing that the cabin remains safe. In some aircraft, the filters may also have a carbon filter, allowing for odors and volatile organic compounds that source from engine oil, de-icing fluids, and hydraulic fluids to be removed. While HEPA filters are important for recirculated air, they also purify atmospheric air as well.
Despite air filters being the most common methods for handling cabin air, some aircraft utilize engine air filters to support the health of turbine engine assemblies. As we have already established, many engines like the turbine engine utilize atmospheric air for their combustion processes, and this air can potentially carry foreign debris that can deter performance, health, and more. As such, engine air filters are often used to protect the combustion chamber.
While the use of these filters sounds extremely important, it is not entirely common. This is because air is generally cleaner the higher one goes in the atmosphere, and most aircraft will not need to use a filter when they are operating at cruising altitudes. As such, engine air filters are most commonly found on smaller aircraft that operate at lower altitudes as a result of their more limited capabilities. If these engines were to be operated without filters, they could run the risk of pollution which can cut down on overall service lives.    
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