This article first appeared as a Comment in the 5 August issue of Flight International
British Airways may be centre stage for this week’s report on a case of pilot and cabin crew illness, but it is an industry-wide problem not related to a specific airline or aircraft type.
As more and more pilots and cabin crew come forward with manifestations of organophosphate-induced neurotoxicity (OPIN), it is getting more difficult for airlines, manufacturers and government departments to take the official line that it is nothing to do with their work. Plus, as medical knowledge on the subject is accumulated and more tissue damage samples gathered, it will become even more difficult.
The Richard Westgate case is likely to become an industry watershed. Westgate was a 43-year-old BA pilot who died in December 2012, and the difference in his case is that he had extensive medical tests done both before his death and by autopsy after it.
Most crew OPIN victims suffer traumatic symptoms and just lose their jobs. However, since Westgate’s case a BA steward has died – and although his case was not recognised before death, an autopsy revealed almost identical OPIN symptoms to Westgate’s. As lawyer Frank Cannon remarks: “They can try explaining one [case] away, but not another and then another.”
The industry can pursue several potential solutions to prevent engine oil-based organophosphates getting into cabin air – but it had better accelerate its efforts.