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Profile on New Technologies: CTT's Zonal Comfort System
Contributed by: David Gelles, Staff Writer

September 17, 2002 - I'm writing this article at an altitude of approximately 30,000 feet, and while my skin is drying up, it's "raining" on the woman in front of me.

These atmospheric nuisances - dry cabin air and excess condensation "raining" on passengers - are commonplace in commercial airliners and large business jets alike, and besides being an unnecessary discomfort, represent a serious safety hazard.

Most seasoned travelers know the symptoms; upon de-boarding a long flight, rough skin, red eyes, a dry mouth, and occasionally a new cold, are practically expected. What most passengers don't know is that above the cabin ceiling, a large amount of condensation is accumulating. This accounts for the cabin rain, but it can also cause corrosion, extra weight, electrical systems' failure, and structural arching.

The problem is no mystery. At high altitudes, cabins must be pressurized and heated to allow for a minimum comfort level. However, the space between the cabin ceiling and the aircraft hull - an area packed with electronics and insulation - is left atmospherically unattended. The result is a cold, unpressurized space that, when left above the cabin's relative heat, causes condensation.

Solving these problems in a cost-effective and comprehensive manner will represent one of the last great strides towards total in-flight comfort, and real progress is on the horizon.

Torbjorn Johansson, President of CTT Systems, the company that is marketing the first cabin humidification system, says of the challenge, "We have the best aerodynamics, the best avionics, but no one has ever taken care of humidity."

Mr. Johansson aims to do this by introducing his Zonal Comfort System, which will offer pleasant cabin humidity without any condensation.

CTT Systems already produces the Zonal Drying System, which simply removes the excess humidity from the space between the cabin and hull to counter the safety hazards. In a 747, as much as one ton of insulation can become saturated with humidity, adding significant weight to the total load, and thereby reducing fuel efficiency. Also, all jets have wiring above the cabin, and when "rain" accumulates, there is a real danger of short circuiting.

Until now, many in the industry doubted the viability of an effective humidification system because it was assumed that any moisture in the cabin would cause more rain. But by redistributing the moisture already created above the cabin ceiling, CTT is solving two problems at once. Expanding of the abilities of the Zonal Drying System, CTT designed the Zonal Comfort System to draw the excess moisture into the cabin, thereby keeping the insulation space dry, and the cabin air pleasant.

Comfort comes at a steep price. In Boeing Business Jets, the first aircraft for which the system is being manufactured, the cost will be several hundred thousand dollars. However, this is not dissuading buyers. Ten systems have already been delivered, with five more on order. And at the NBAA convention in Orlando (link to article), CTT fielded numerous inquiries from Gulfstream, Challenger, and Falcon owners. Also, Mr. Johansson offered the consolation that "the cost is small relative to the total interior."

While CTT's marketing is currently geared primarily towards the business aviation community, future plans involve pitching the system to manufacturers. One model, the A380, will soon be offered with Zonal Comfort already installed.

Mr. Johansson, a thin man with blonde hair and wiry glasses, has spent his entire career around aviation innovation. In 1982 he joined Saab's Military Aircraft Engineering team. When finished there, he spent eight years in the German aerospace industry before founding CTT Systems in his native Sweden. "I don't know anything other than aircraft," he said.

Years of development paid off in 1996, when CTT began mass deliveries of the Zonal Drying System to MarinAir, installing their product primarily for safety reasons on Boeing 767s and MD-11s. Air Berlin is the latest customer, citing foggy cockpit windows as reason for their purchase.

A subplot of the CTT story has been the struggling expansion of a European company into the American market. CTT outsources most of their component parts and manufactures in Sweden, but is marketing heavily in the United States. "This is the first time we're in the U.S to exhibit, and NBAA has been very good for us," Mr. Johansson said at NBAA. In Europe, their clientele already include Airbus, Lufthansa, Swissair, and KLM.

Widespread integration of CTT's Zonal Comfort System is a long way off, but it is nonetheless encouraging to see steps being taken in the right direction. And still, a limited numbers of elite travelers with soon be enjoying the luxury of real in-flight atmospheric control.

So on your next business flight, instead of feeling like you've just schlepped across the arctic plateau, you may feel like you've been seaside on a tropical isle; even better, one with no mosquitoes.

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