All UK airlines are legally required to report any occurrences that could have, or did, endanger aircraft occupants within 72 hours. Airlines are also required to carry out appropriate levels of analysis of a potential incident and determine any further action that may help improve aviation safety. This applies to all types of occurrences including those relating to fire, smoke, fumes or smells.
Fire, fumes, smoke and smells
There are over one million UK passenger flights operated by UK registered airlines each year.
Between 1st December 2014 and 30th November 2016 the CAA received a total of 1,672 reports from UK airlines relating to occurrences involving fire, fumes, smoke or smells inside the aircraft cabin. This represents three per cent of all occurrence reports sent to the CAA in that period.
Engine bleed air
We recognise that there is strong interest in fume events, particularly those that relate to ‘engine bleed air’, which some people have suggested could impact on people’s health. Based on the available data, occurrences relating to engine bleed air are very rare and confirmed incidents form five per cent of the total number of fume event reports we receive each year.
It is acknowledged that people who experience a fume event (of any type) may report symptoms such as irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. These symptoms usually resolve, however, once the fumes or smell have disappeared.
A number of studies have been carried out in this area to determine whether there is a link to long-term ill health, including Government-commissioned research. The overall conclusion of those studies is that there is no positive evidence of a link between exposure to contaminants in cabin air and possible long-term health effects, although such a link cannot be excluded.
We have analysed the information in the reports provided by the airlines for the period set out above and found that five per cent (82) of the fire, fume, smoke or smell-related occurrences reported were confirmed engine bleed air related incidents.
Our analysis also found 49 per cent (819) of the reported occurrences did not relate to engine bleed air. There will be a variety of sources for these fume occurrences in the cabin including food, cleaning products and toilets.36 per cent (603) of the reports provided to the CAA did not provide a clear conclusion regarding the specific occurrence. Whilst we would like to understand the cause of all occurrences, we also recognise that such events can be transient and it may not be possible for airlines to determine the specific source.
Finally, a further 10 per cent (168) of reports included information that confirmed engineering investigations had found no fault with the aircraft.
To read the full CAA information click here