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I understand that due to health and security reasons, there must be a minimum in the pressure inside the cabin (75 kPa). But in class I have been told that maintaining low pressure levels has advantages, which ones?

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  • $\begingroup$ Related: "Cabin pressure is limited to 8000ft maximum, due to structural fuselage meeting (otherwise it would "explode" as a balloon)" from How does the cabin pressure controller work in a large commercial airliner?. This is to keep the pressure difference between outside (lower as altitude increases) and inside as low as acceptable, to prevent using a stronger but heavier fuselage. $\endgroup$ – mins Dec 30 '18 at 12:08
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You want the lowest pressure that can be tolerated by most of the population for the purpose of maintaining adequate blood oxygen levels, which is generally considered to be 8000 ft above sea level. At 8000 ft, someone with degraded lung function, like a smoker, is effectively at 10000 ft plus and is already at the threshold of having marginal blood oxygen for peak brain function.

At 40000 ft this requires a pressure differential of a little over 8 psi between the interior and exterior and you build the pressure hull to that and no more (it's a certification requirement). As per min's comment this is partly to keep from having to make the pressure hull any stronger than it needs to be (every pound over the minimum is non-revenue ballast) and also to minimize engine bleed demand, which can be thought of as lost energy being used to keep the balloon of the pressure hull inflated instead of making thrust. So, bottom line is it would be better for the airplane, both structurally and from an energy use standpoint, to operate with lower pressure differential and higher cabin altitude, but now the crew would have to start using supplemental oxygen and more people in the back would be getting sick.

The 787, because of its carbon fuselage, is able to go with a higher differential structurally, and its electric-pump pressurization system is a bit more efficient than taking bleed air directly, so Boeing had the option to certify to a higher differential pressure, 9 psi, which gives a 6000 ft cabin at service ceiling. They could have used 8 psi and just shaved off more weight and used slightly lighter air pumps, but instead they increased the differential. This was done mostly as a cabin comfort sales feature and was thought of as a bigger sales benefit than going with the weight saving route.

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When transporting animals, particularly larger (zoo, show) animals, it is often requested by the handler/vet to have higher pressure altitudes. This helps calm the animal, and makes them less active.

In contrast, for long medvac flights, it was company practice to keep the cabin pressure altitude as low as possible, unless the medical personnel requested otherwise. There is of course supplemental O2 for patients at all times.

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    $\begingroup$ A friend, reading this, reminded me of a flight we had, with his daughter on board, who is very allergic to bee stings. We were in his P210, and almost at altitude. I turned on the O2, we put on masks, and depressurized the cabin. Within minutes, the bee was stationary, and was dispatched. Then the cabin was re-pressurized, with no bee threat. $\endgroup$ – mongo Jan 1 at 16:35

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