Protecting Aircraft Drinking Water

How Cadmus provides essential research and communications support to help a unique industry ensure consumers have access to safe drinking water

Because aircraft drinking water systems are mobile and have unique operating characteristics, many of the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations that apply to traditional, stationary public water systems cannot be effectively implemented by these systems. A new regulation was needed to ensure the safety and reliability of drinking water for aircraft passengers and crew. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule development process in 2006 and the final rule was promulgated in October 2009.


Communications strategy is an important ongoing effort to facilitate compliance with the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule. In one common scenario affected by the Rule, air carrier personnel routinely make decisions regarding boarding water onto aircraft. When the water supplied to the airport does not meet federal regulations or a boil-water order is issued, air carrier personnel need to decide:

  1. Whether the water available to board onto the aircraft is safe to drink
  2. If unsafe water has already been boarded, whether actions such as shutting off the water system, notifying the passengers and crew, or arranging for disinfection and flushing of the aircraft water system are needed

Air carrier personnel need accurate information conveyed in a timely manner to avoid unnecessary boarding of unsafe water and to ensure that public health is not affected by the drinking water onboard the aircraft. Effective communications among air carrier, airport, and public water system stakeholders are critical.


Cadmus has provided technical support to EPA throughout this effort for a wide range of activities:

  • Supported development of the regulatory framework, incorporating the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach
  • Compiled and analyzed air carrier compliance data
  • Provided workgroup and stakeholder support
  • Prepared an economic and supporting analysis document
  • Reviewed and analyzed public comments on the proposed regulation and draft guidance document
  • Produced a guidance document for air carriers
  • Prepared briefing materials for EPA management
  • Developed training materials and delivered training sessions on rule requirements
  • Supported development of a communication strategy for public water systems, airports, and air carriers that are stakeholders in the aircraft drinking water supply and transfer chain

We have helped EPA document communication practices used during several water-related events, including significant water main breaks and consequences of natural disasters on water supplies. To do so, Cadmus prepared background information, developed interview questions, and participated in telephone interviews with air carrier, airport, and public water system representatives. We developed case study reports to summarize interview findings and stakeholder perspectives on current communications practices and future needs.


One key finding from the stakeholder interviews is that airport and air carrier staffs often do not know which public water system provides drinking water to a particular airport. When a water quality emergency occurs, they need quick access to contact information for the system’s water quality manager. Cadmus is developing a database for EPA of public water systems that serve major airports in each EPA region to facilitate rapid communications.