The South Korean government is working with Hanseo University to trace the origins of the country’s fine dust problem using a modified Beechcraft 1900D turboprop.

Dr Kim Jong-Ho, a vice president at the university and one of the project leads, tells Smart Aviation APAC that fine dust pollution is a major public health issue in South Korea that is still not yet well-understood. Fine dust, typically referring to particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5), is dangerous to human health as it is small enough to penetrate and damage the alveoli, or air sacs in the lungs.

“Ground observation is limited to being able to determine air quality at a specific place or time on the ground. With aerial observation from an aircraft, we can fly over the western sea [the Yellow Sea] and over local pollution sources, making direct comparisons between domestic and
foreign contributions of PM2.5 pollution,” Kim says.

Local reports have blamed much of the fine dust pollution on Chinese industry across the Yellow Sea.

“We have onboard aerosol mass spectrometry (HR-ToF-AMS and UHSAS) and single-particle soot photometers (SP2) to measure PM2.5, but also analysers and equipment such as a proton-mass-transfer mass spectrometer (HR-PTR-MS), which can measure various gaseous substances. Measuring gaseous components such as nitrates and sulfates is crucial in our observation as they are often the precursors to fine dust creation,” he adds.

Kim says using an observation aircraft is also important because it allows the researchers to accurately assess the impact of larger pollution sources such as power plants and steel mills on air quality. By looking from above, they are also able to suggest directions to improve air quality, such as having industrial plants manage discharge facilities in a different way, he adds.

“We have also used a Beechcraft King Air C90GT for aerial observation, but found that the payload of the eight-seater aircraft was limiting the equipment and number of researchers we could have onboard. Switching to the 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D gave us the freedom to measure more air pollution components simultaneously,” Kim says.

However, modifying the Beechcraft 1900D to have more equipment onboard presented new challenges, Kim says. The Hanseo University aviation team spent a lot of time remodeling the pressurised aircraft according to safety guidelines and having the appropriate parts fabricated to specification, he adds.

Kim says the research team hopes to fully utilise the observation platform before considering an aircraft that can take more equipment. Between researchers from Hanseo University and partner institutes such as the National Institute of Environmental Research, there are still a number of air pollution projects in the pipeline, he adds.

These include trying to identify more distant sources of fine dust pollution and better understanding their local impacts, Kim says. There are also a number of applications in the fields of agricultural and maritime research, although there are no specific plans in those areas yet, he adds.

These include trying to identify more distant sources of fine dust pollution and better understanding their local impacts, Kim says. There are also a number of applications in the fields of agricultural and maritime research, although there are no specific plans in those areas yet, he adds.