Crew and Passenger Exposure to Contaminated Air on Aircraft


Sheriff Stanhope Payne, Senior Coroner for Dorset raises serious Matters of Concern on Crew and Passenger Exposure to Contaminated Air on Aircraft

London, England (February 20, 2015) –The Global Cabin Air Quality Executive (GCAQE), established in 2006, is the leading organisation representing air crew (pilots, cabin crew and engineers) and off shore oil workers, that deals specifically with contaminated air issues and cabin air quality. We represent nearly 30 organizations, and over three quarters of a million workers around the world.

In preparation for an Inquest into the circumstances of the tragic death of British Airways Airbus co-pilot Mr. Richard Westgate in December 2012, Mr. Sheriff Stanhope Payne, Senior Coroner for Dorset, has raised five serious Matters of Concern resulting from his initial investigation into Mr. Westgate’s death. These are raised as a Regulation 28 report to prevent future deaths:

(1) That organo-phosphate compounds are present in aircraft cabin air.
(2) That the occupants of aircraft cabins are exposed to organo-phosphate compounds with consequential damage to their health.
(3) That impairment to the health of those controlling aircraft may lead to the death of occupants.
(4) There is no real time monitoring to detect such compounds in cabin air.
(5) That no account is taken of genetic variation in the human species, such as would render individuals tolerant or intolerant of the exposure.

The Matters of Concern are in total contrast to the view expressed by John Leahy, Chief Operating Officer – Customers of Airbus, at the 2014 Farnborough air show, who stated that the whole issue of contaminated air was “Absurd”.

Frank Cannon of Cannons Law Practice acting on behalf of the family of the deceased issued the following quotes:

“The industry position has changed successively over the last 20 or so years, starting from a position of absolute denial that any toxic contamination was present.  When scientific tests established the presence of the contamination, the industry position changed to acceptance of its presence, ‘but don’t worry it won’t do you any harm’. When real cases of harm emerged time and again, the position evolved yet again to one of ‘We know it’s there, but it is well below minimum safety levels. So it cannot be the contamination that is causing the ill-health in aircrews.’  Minimum safety levels are a fallacy, with no known scientific basis. Real neurotoxic injury is caused by long-term low-level exposure. When a plane lands, the passengers get off, but the crew turn around and do the same thing all over again, day in day out.

“When monitoring or sample testing has taken place, the actual figures obtained are ‘all over the place’ with no consistency. This demonstrates two things: (1) there are a huge number of variables at play, such as the level of proper maintenance, aircraft type, age and hours of engine life, etc  - “ you could be lucky or maybe not’, and (2) since the sample testing never covers a whole flight, you will never know whether the figures obtained represent the troughs or the peaks of exposure.”

”Also very important is the issue of genetic variability between individuals. Some people have a DNA coding that means they lack the necessary enzymes to detoxify properly or at all. The rule emerges that if you are unable to detoxify between flights at a rate which is equal to or greater than the rate at which you are re-intoxicated by repetitive, successive and cumulative exposures, you will become extremely unwell.”

“Permanent ‘hard-wired’ monitoring or detection, without concurrent filtration, will, no doubt, result in the constant grounding of certain aircraft. I suspect that is the main reason why the industry has never shown any enthusiasm for detection systems.”

“Mr Boeing is rolling 11 787’s a month off the production line, God bless ‘em. Why not wait till the next one is rolled on to a ramp near you.”

Numerous Air Safety Agencies have called for contaminated air detection systems to be fitted to commercial aircraft to prevent flight safety being compromised and to warn when their air is contaminated. These include the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), which issued Safety Recommendation 2007-002 in 2007 stating:

“It is recommended that the EASA/FAA consider requiring, for all large aeroplanes operating for the purposes of commercial air transport, a system to enable the flight crew to identify rapidly the source of smoke by providing a flight deck warning of smoke or oil mist in the air delivered from each air conditioning unit.”

The industry has ignored these calls and continues to fail to inform passengers when they have been exposed to contaminated air on aircraft.

Co-Chairman of the GCAQE, and recent British Citizen Awards winner Captain Tristan Loraine BCAi stated: “The only long term safe solution is for all aircraft to be built with the unique bleed free architecture currently flying onboard the Boeing 787. The Boeing 787 is the only commercial jet aircraft flying in which crews and passengers can fly knowing the air they breathe will be free of pyrolised and hazardous jet engine oil fumes.”

Dr. Susan Michaelis, Head of Research for the GCAQE stated: “The industry was warned of the health risks of exposing crews and passengers to contaminated air as far back as 1954. Its only with the smoking ban in the late 1980s that the public finally realised the air they were inhaling could be contaminated. The serious Matters of Concern raised by the Senior Coroner for Dorset show that no crew member or passenger should ever be exposed to contaminated air, especially when the industry has an alternative solution flying on the Boeing 787.”

The High Court of Australia upheld a ruling in 2010, that inhaling heated oil fumes was harmful.

On 27th February 2015, Tristan Loraine’s latest film ‘A Dark Reflection’; an investigative feature film on the issue of contaminated air funded by the public, crews and crew unions world wide, will be released into selected British cinemas.

The next annual GCAQE meeting will be held next week in London on 24/25 February 2015.

Additional information is available from:

For further information contact:

Captain Tristan Loraine
GCAQE Co-Chairman
+44 (0) 7968 213862

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