As non aircrew still continue to claim that there is ‘no evidence’ that human exposure to toxic oil fumes in a confined space causes ill health – it has been decided to publish a series of 6 blogs on how a BAe 146 pilot eventually discovered the cause of his severe chronic ill health.
John Hoyte was a commercial pilot for nearly 30 years and co-authored ‘Aerotoxic Syndrome: Aviation’s Darkest Secret’ published by Pilot Press in 2014. His blogs will be published once a month over the next five months – concluding on Sunday 22nd May 2016 @ 1700 UTC with a ‘Statement’ held by a lawyer since 2007. The blog will expose what happens to professional aircrew when they are grounded with chronic ill health. As passengers (including children) breathe the same air, they too experience identical ill health.
Previous Blogs are here.
As I enter February I need to be assessed for my loss of licence payment (in effect a form of worker’s compensation for pilots) in order to check on whether or not I can claim incapacity as a result of my mysterious medical condition. This condition has left me, nine months after ‘failing safe’ from flying, with chronic fatigue, Alzheimer type memory, jumbled speech, a permanent echo in my head and other neurological symptoms. This formality is conducted by a fellow professional and my union BALPA give me a choice of two people who can assess me – Captain Julian Soddy a former BAe146 captain or Professor Mike Bagshaw, an admired aviation health expert of Kings College, London.
I decide to go with Professor Bagshaw. At this point I believed I needed the opinion of an experienced medical professional who could hopefully help me understand my overall condition, and he seemed the logical choice. I eventually drove down to Flybe’s offices at Exeter airport to meet him, feeling nervous, burned out and stressed – slightly confused that the professor was on first name terms with my Flybe managers.
An additional complication is that I really need the £75,000 loss of licence payment as my family have been living on sickness pay for over 6 months and faced an uncertain future. Therefore when Professor Bagshaw was assessing and looking over my condition I nodded and went along with what he said, even when I didn’t agree with his conclusion of my condition as being caused by ‘chronic stress’ as I had survived countless highly stressful flying situations over the past thirty years. And any mention of the pending UCL university testing or cabin fumes had to be set aside, as I had calculated and been advised that it would compromise and jeopardise the financial outcome.
Some people might say, ‘Why did you go along with this process?’ It is easy to understand, ten years later, that I made the mistaken step, but at the time I felt as though I had no choice as I still had faith in the ‘system’. My daughter was preparing to go to university and learning to drive and my son was about to start senior school. I needed money in order to look after my family.
At the end of February a big bombshell hits: despite my best efforts I fail my driving instructor assessor test. According to the examiner my error was that when I drove up a short stretch of the M1 I stayed in the slow lane and was not hitting the 70 mph that I was supposed to do – by law?
What was ironic was that I had to come to terms with yet another ‘failure’ whilst at my son’s evening birthday party, watching him and his friends excitedly racing cars around a multi lane Scalextric track, a diversion from my nightmare.
Having failed the test, this meant that I couldn’t make a career out of driving instructing in the future. What to do now?
However on 26th February 2006 an article was published in The Observer which I didn’t read at the time. Dozens of other pilots who flew for Flybe from Belfast were reported as suffering from dizziness, nausea and double vision, with more than 100 incidents in the previous three years. I hadn’t realised until then that my working conditions might have caused my ill health, but reading this article subsequently I realised how accurately it summarised the cabin air issue – ten years ago.
Q: if it was up to you, who would you have chosen to be assessed for your loss of licence payment – BALPA’s Captain Soddy or Professor Bagshaw?
NEXT Blog: ‘University College London/Biolab testing of 27 BALPA pilots’ – to be published during March 2016.