Anyone who travels knows that no two sips of tap water are the same. The quality of drinking water varies enormously between countries. Water quality is an important point of consideration for KLM, that takes water on board from so many destination airports for the in-bound flights to Amsterdam.
Drinking water is available on every KLM flight. A Boeing 747 full pax carries 1,200 litres of drinking water on each flight. KLM and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment have reached agreement that water checks must be carried out according to European regulations. A small team at KLM Engineering’s Support & Development department checks the water and ensures that passengers can safely quench their thirst on board.
On flights from Schiphol, KLM aircraft carry water from the normal mains supply. European flights usually carry enough water for the outbound and inbound flights, while intercontinental flights carry enough for the outward flight only. The water for inbound flights is taken on board at the destination airports. In compliance with agreements, KLM periodically gives its cockpit crew water boxes. These contain three bottles. One bottle is for water from a random tap at the relevant airport; one is for water from the hose at the point where the water enters the water carrier; and one is for water from the water carrier itself. Colleagues at the destination airports fill the bottles and send them back for analysis at KLM’s water lab in the Netherlands. They are checked microbiologically for pathogens like the coliform bacteria and enterococcus, and physically checked for acidity, clarity, chlorine and conductivity.
The checks are done with the aid of filters and culture media in petri dishes. These are placed in incubators so that any bacteria present will multiply. Any fluorescent dots or other discoloration visible after the prescribed period has lapsed indicates a high chance that the water sample contains pathogens.
The water from all destination airports is designated a colour that corresponds to the test results. Green stands for ‘allowed’ – water may be taken on board at these destination airports. Yellow stands for ‘borderline’ – water may be taken on board but the tanks must be cleaned at Schiphol. Red stands for ‘not allowed’. Planes may not take water on board at destination airports with a ‘red’ colour. This means that enough water must be taken on board at Schiphol for the outbound and inbound flights. Other options are to take extra stores of bottled water or take on extra water during stopovers.
Thanks to the efforts of the people at Support & Development, the drinking water on board all KLM flights is always checked and passengers can safely wash their hands and drink from the taps.