Before considering the future of aircraft environmental control systems (ECS's), a review of the relatively short history of this field would be valuable in understanding the present situation. Therefore, this paper notes many of the significant developments in commercial aircraft air-cycle refrigeration and in cabin environmental control. The evolution leading to the great variety of air-cycle systems now in production, or under development, is discussed along with a generic comparison of the merits of the various system types and some reasons for their selection. Constraints on air conditioning system development imposed by the airline operators, aircraft manufacturers, and regulatory agencies are touched upon as significant to charting the future direction of air conditioning system design. Finally, several directions that could be taken in future design are briefly commented upon.