How Does Cabin Heating Work on Aircraft?

As an airplane climbs in the sky, up to altitudes that rival Mount Everest, the temperature drops to levels much lower than that of the ground. Consequently, when a commercial aircraft begins to ascend, its heating system will typically engage, and it will expel warm air out the vents to heat the cabin to a comfortable temperature. Though some planes use electric heating systems, most rely on a combustion heater which uses the same fuel as an airplane's engines. If you are curious about how each of these systems function, read on as we discuss how cabin heating works on aircraft.

Although there are exceptions, most commercial aircraft use combustion heaters to reliably warm the cabin. In essence, a combustion heater is a furnace that burns a portion of the fuel used by the engine. During this process, some of the fuel is diverted from the engine’s storage tank to the combustion heater where it is burned to generate heat. These combustion heaters feature a pilot light, or small gas flame, which is used so that when fuel is pumped through the chamber, a larger flame is created within a sealed metal housing unit. A fan will then blow cold air over the combustion heater where the air will absorb the combustion heater’s thermal energy. Only then can it be expelled into the airplane’s cabin to maintain a comfortable temperature. Since the byproduct of this process is carbon monoxide gas, it is safely released from the aircraft through an exhaust pipe in a similar process to the combustion engines.

While most aircraft employ combustion heaters, electric heaters can be helpful in smaller, lighter aircraft. These systems work in a similar way, except that their heating source is powered by electricity. In operation, electricity is passed through a heating element which uses electrical resistance to produce heat. As the element heats up, the heat energy is transferred to a core and is then conducted by the heater’s casing before being transferred to the surrounding air. To best distribute this heated air, aircraft electric heaters are also equipped with a fan that blows the air across and over the heating element, and finally into the cabin. Electric heating systems aren’t as powerful as combustion heaters, but they may be useful as a cheaper, more sustainable, and more fuel-efficient heating source.

As stated before, cabin heating is important because planes soar into higher altitudes with much colder temperatures. Though the temperature on the ground may be suitable for passengers on board an aircraft, as the plane reaches cruising altitude, the cabin will become significantly colder, enough to potentially cause hypothermia without proper thermal management. Therefore, all airplanes must be designed with a heating system to warm the cabin during regular trips to high elevation.

If you are an airplane owner or operator looking for cabin heating system parts, or other aviation components, look no further than Buy NSN. As an AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 00-56B accredited member of the Aviation Suppliers Association (ASA), we go to great lengths to guarantee the quality and authenticity of all our offerings. As such, all our items are traceable and shipped with their qualifying certifications, as applicable. If you are interested in any of the items we offer, we invite you to browse our online catalog of available parts at your leisure. Upon finding any items of interest, you can always submit an Instant RFQ to receive a competitive quote for your comparisons in just 15 minutes of our receipt of your completed form.


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