Still in denial

(This article first appeared as a Comment in the 23-29 April issue of Flight International)

Things have moved on in some ways since we last looked at the subject of contaminated cockpit and cabin air, and in other ways they have not.

More pilots are reporting more in-flight events in which engine oil fumes pollute cabin air, making crews sick and, in some cases, almost incapacitating them. Increasingly, accident investigators are confirming that following these incidents neurotoxins from engine oil have been found in pilots’ blood.

In Germany, the transport minister has recognised the problem exists and called for united action, via the European Commission and EASA. In that sense, things have moved on, driven by increasing awareness among crews about the issue and associated risks. But as for government or industry action, there is increasing confusion, embarrassment and dissembling.

Government transport departments accept oil fume events happen and that they contain neurotoxins, but they insist the levels of contamination are acceptable. At the same time they admit they don’t know what the levels are and refuse to take measurements to determine them. They also refuse to require installation of fume detection and warning systems.

This state of denial is enabled by the fact the burden of legal proof is on the victims. It is only a matter of time before biochemical proof is available, and the industry had better know how it will react when it is.

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