Can we calculate this? Or is it almost impossible?

  • $\begingroup$ stats.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$ – expeditedescent Mar 5 '17 at 8:18
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    $\begingroup$ For the case "all masks", a pressure sensor triggers the masks release when the cabin equivalent-altitude is more than 14,000 ft. If it fails, the crew is informed and can override it $\endgroup$ – mins Mar 5 '17 at 10:17

The oxygen system for passengers in an airliner is generally powered by a chemical oxygen generator.

The generator contains chemicals, which when they come into contact with each other, commence a reaction that produces oxygen for a few minutes.

The act of pulling down the mask triggers the contact between the chemicals.

A generator typically serves two or three seats, and each generator is independent of the others on the aircraft. They are not part of a single system with common points of failure.

The panel behind which the masks is opened by a pressure switch, and can also be opened manually.

However the crew will use bottles of oxygen, and the flight crew will use a more complex system that also includes smoke hoods.

Conceivably (anything is possible) a manufacturing fault or sabotage could render every single one of the generator/mask sets inoperative, but it would be an extraordinarily unlikely thing to happen.

People often imagine a system of pipes carrying oxygen to all the masks, but in fact such a system is rarely used. One notable example is the earlier (-100 to -400) variants of the Boeing 747, in which the oxygen is indeed piped. And, apparently, may have not always worked as expected:

The flight crew donned their oxygen masks and manually deployed the passenger oxygen masks.

[...] The PIC was also advised that there appeared to be no oxygen flowing through any of the passenger cabin oxygen masks, however this did not seem to have had any ill effect on the passengers. After the PIC cycled the passenger oxygen switch, a momentary surge of oxygen through the passenger masks was observed.

(from an Australian Transport Safety Bureau report into a November 2001 incident)

| improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ The 747-100 through -400 models used oxygen canisters and piping for the passenger oxygen system rather than chemical oxygen generators. I don't know about the 747-8 $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Mar 5 '17 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW thanks I have updated the answer. $\endgroup$ – Daniele Procida Mar 6 '17 at 9:58

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