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It’s Time to Clear the Air

It’s Time to Clear the Air

The aviation industry has fallen on difficult times over the last 12 months, when you consider the tragedies surrounding the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, the MH17 disaster above the skies of Ukraine and the Germanwings plane crash in the Alps.

But what about the latest, breaking news to come out of the industry, as last week it was reported that aircrews were now planning to launch personal injury claims against British airlines over toxic fumes causing a condition known as Aerotoxic Syndrome?

Well, first of all this is not quite the new phenomena as you would think, as aircrews across the country have been fighting for action over the exposure to toxic fumes in flight cabins for quite some time.

But over the coming months, these campaigns for action will turn into court battles, as more and more pilots and flight crew become concerned about the adverse effect that being exposed to contaminated cabin air has had on their health and their ability to continue working in the job that they love.

Last month, Unite called for a public inquiry over the issue and into the after-effects suffered as a result of what is known as a ‘fume event’. This is where contaminated air can become mixed in the air used to cool the cabin. This occurs when the wet seals that are designed to help avoid this, fail within the engines, causing smoke and fumes to enter the cabin.

The sort of contaminants that this air contains includes:

  • Engine Oil
  • Hydraulic Fuel
  • Anti-Freezing Fluid

To put that in to perspective, imagine pumping air containing the above listed contaminants into your car while you were driving. Now think of the hazards it may cause baring in mind you could expect to experience symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, blurred vision and headaches but to name a very few. Now imagine what that would do to the quality of your driving. Finally, consider the effect that this could have on a pilot who is responsible for flying an aircraft carrying hundreds of people.

Aerotoxic Syndrome is a very serious condition, that could lead to catastrophic consequences if it is allowed to occur on board a flight. Clearly something needs to be done to eradicate “fume events” in order to reduce the number of instances where cabin crew and pilots are exposed to contaminated air.

Last week, The Daily Mail reported that at least 17 former and current cabin crew staff, who believe they are suffering from Aerotoxic Syndrome, have launched civil cases against their employers and it is expected that hundreds more will soon follow suit.

There are stories of cabin crew being forced to walk away from their careers because they were exposed to a “fume event” and such are the nature of the the symptoms of Aerotoxic Syndrom, they have never sufficiently recovered.

In April, official figures were released by the Civil Aviation Authority which revealed that there had been 167 reported cases of toxic cabin fumes or smoke by pilots in just four months. In response to this the Civil Aviation Authority said: “We take all safety issues very seriously. Whenever these incidents occur, the aircraft will generally be taken out of service and thoroughly inspected.

Health problems, and the likeliness of contracting the symptoms associated with Aerotoxic Syndrome, arise for those people who are repeatedly and continuously exposed to contaminated air, so the people likely to suffer are frequent fliers and airline staff.

It has long been contested that there are any direct links to cabin air and ill health but there have been a number of cases presented which would suggest that there is a correlation, not to mention incidents whereby planes have been grounded because of the appearance of fumes within the cabin. For example, a KLM flight, flying from Manchester to Amsterdam, was forced to make an emergency landing at Norwich airport after the pilot noticed fumes in the cockpit.

The Daily Mail also reported a worse case in February, when it was noticed that fumes were in the cabin and that 11 members of the cabin crew became unwell during the flight with symptoms belonging to Aerotoxic exposure. On this occasion oxygen had to be administered and the aircraft was force to return as a safety precaution.

There have also been more tragic circumstances, that increases the belief that there is a correlation to cabin staff falling unwell to contaminated cabin air. In 2012, BA Pilot, Richard Westgate died and the coroner in this case reported that he was poisoned due to “repeated exposure to contaminated air.” This, in turn, led to his lawyers describing toxic air as becoming “the new asbestos”.

What is clear from all this, is that there is evidently a case to answer and the number of personal injury claims being made for Aerotoxic Syndrome can certainly be expected to increase in the coming months and so this issue should certainly not be ignored.

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