Cordillera: Overcoming limitations of current emergency oxygen systems

By Mayte Esteban, Chief of the Office of Airworthiness, Caeli Nova

While regular commercial air travel has been in existence since the 1920s it was not until far later in the century that safety briefings became routine for passengers and crew. These safety demonstrations were born of a new-found knowledge about how to reduce and mitigate the possible dangers of air travel.

As the aviation industry evolved, pressurised cabins were developed to enable aircraft to fly at higher altitudes whilst allowing passengers to breathe normally. Then came emergency oxygen systems, complete with the familiar yellow silicone facial masks, to allow passengers and crew to continue to breathe safely if the main cabin pressurisation failed. 

In the rare event of a cabin decompression, the pilot would be required to initiate a rapid descent to an altitude that humans can typically breathe without assistance (normally 10,000 ft), before the passenger emergency oxygen runs out. However, this precludes aircraft from routing over high terrain as the pilot may not be able to divert away from the mountains and descend to a safe altitude before this happens.  As a result, aircraft have for many years operated longer routes, flying around mountainous areas, consuming more fuel with associated carbon emissions. 

Overcoming limitations

Cordillera, which incorporates Caeli Nova’s patented breathing technology, is a long-anticipated update to the current passenger emergency oxygen system. It will overcome the well-known limitations associated with existing systems, thereby enabling aircraft to operate the most direct routes.

With Cordillera installed on the aircraft, a pilot can remain longer at 21,000ft and avoid the stressful, demanding rapid descent to 10,000ft in the event of a decompression. Consequently, direct routes such as L888 over the Himalayas will become accessible as the technology enables positive terrain separation if there is an emergency.

As a result of maintaining higher altitudes for longer, Cordillera enables more efficient flight and fuel planning which will deliver fuel saving and payload benefits. 

Separation from ground threats

Cordillera is not exclusive to commercial carriers. Large troop-carrier, air-to-air refuelling aircraft, and VVIP aircraft, often undertake long journeys across areas of increased ground threat. Continuing flights at 10,000 ft for long durations after a depressurisation exposes the aircraft to increased ground threats, such as man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS). 

Again, by allowing the aircraft to continue operating above 20,000 ft in the event of a decompression, Cordillera will enable the aircraft to maintain its threat clearance and further improve operational safety.  

A new altitude

Cordillera will remove current operational limitations and make a contribution to improved flight safety. It will enable shorter flight times, reduce fuel usage, lower carbon emissions and afford wider operational benefits such as increased flexibility in flight and fuel planning.

To find out more about Cordillera, read our dedicated page here.