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Ask the Captain: How often do airlines replace the HEPA filters on their planes?

  • July 04, 2020

How often are the HEPA filters changed out on commercial aircraft? Is it done during a particular inspection frequency or a time limit?

– Mac, El Paso, Texas

Based on the information I could find, there is not a specific time interval for changing HEPA filter for all airplane types. It varies by manufacturer and most HEPA filter changes are included in the maintenance process scheduled for a specific interval.

What my research did reveal is that almost airlines are changing the filter – which is an easy task – more often than the manufacturer’s recommendation. 

If the HEPA filters on a jetliner recycle 25% of the cabin’s air supply, how many cycles do you think it takes to expose an individual to airborne viruses that number in the multi-billions with each cough or even normal respiration?

– BCB MD, PhD, Florida

The exchange rate in aircraft is better than in most buildings, so I think the risk is mitigated somewhat. 

It is not possible to answer your questions in number of cycles. I do not think it has been calculated, and the exposure susceptibility of each individual varies. 

For a more specific answer, I would suggest you ask the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.

Ask the Captain: Are jets’ HEPA filters capable of filtering out coronavirus particulates?

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