PASSENGERS and crew are exposed to on board plane fumes so dangerous they can be life-threatening.
Air travel can be a testing experience at the best of times. But annoying neighbours, seat kickers, stodgy plane food and lack of leg room aren’t the only elements for concern.
The in-cabin oxygen supply is not just stuffy, it’s filled with toxic fumes that no one’s told about.
All aircraft except for the new Boeing 787 have their air supplied directly from the jet engines.
This process called ‘bleed air’ circulates through the cabin and comprises an astounding 50% of the total air supply.
Wet seals on the jet engines are designed to keep the oil and air apart but according to the Aerotoxic Association – a group formed by pilots forced out of work because of the issue – this is not completely effective.
When the seals wear down or suddenly fail, a sizeable amount of oil is mixed with hot compressed air and a ‘fume event’ occurs.
Sometimes it’s visible to passengers on board in the form of a blueish haze and sometimes it’s picked up by an oily smell.
Other times it’s not detectable at all, but the event can cause the deadly aerotoxic syndrome.
Despite numerous reported incidences from crew over the years, including the death of British Airways co-pilot Richard Westgate in 2012, little action has been taken to eradicate the toxic environment.
Former pilot and Head of Research for the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive (GCAQE) Susan Michaelis has been researching the issue for nearly two decades.
Ms Michaelis thinks all new aircraft should be made bleed free like the Boeing 787.
She also said: “Current aircraft should all have the bleed air filtered as it comes off the engine & detection systems must be introduced rather than relying on the pilot’s nose alone.”
Chairman of the Aerotoxic Association John Hoyte agrees that evidence from crew has been consistently ignored.
He said: “This issue is a 60 year old fundamental design flaw where crews and passengers are knowingly being exposed to nerve gas agents in the confined space of commercial jets.”
Symptoms of aerotoxic syndrome include fatigue, headaches, nausea, chest tightness and loss of balance.
The Civil Aviation Authority A CAA spokesperson said: “Our priority is always the safety of passengers and crew and we continue to work with airlines, manufacturers and international regulators to drive improvements in safety standards across the industry.
“We understand the concerns that have been raised about cabin air quality and we take very seriously any suggestions that people have suffered ill health from their experience of aviation.
“We rely on guidance from scientific experts based on the results of a number of independent studies and evidence reviews – 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 acute and long-term health effects, although such a link cannot be excluded.
“Accordingly, we continue to support the steps being taken by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which maintains responsibility for approving the safety of aircraft and setting aviation standards for European airlines, and is carrying out further research into cabin air quality.”
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