Air Berlin has admitted it suffered a cabin air contamination event on an Airbus A330 flight from New York JFK to Berlin, and that it has had to report it to the investigator, the BFU.
The crew reported smoke and a “wet pullover” smell in the cockpit and cabin during climb and again during descent. They also report feeling variously dizzy, sick, and suffering numbness in their fingertips. Having reported to base by ACARS and satphone, they got a strange response from the airline’s medical department: they could give no advice on cabin air contamination because such events were “political”.
The airline, in its statement about the event, makes much of its dutiful action in reporting it to the authorities. Actually It had no choice, because people on board suffered medical consequences, which makes reporting compulsory.
Cabin air contamination events are widely ignored by all airlines as inconsequential, and they avoid reporting them if they can, but in this case (25 September) the crew had to receive hospital attention on landing, and the Purser was detained there for two days.
This event, like all the others, was caused by engine oil fumes entering the cabin bleed air feed because of an engine oil seal leak. Upon landing the technical staff reported visible oil leakage on the spinner and in the engine casing.
It is well documented (not least by Flightglobal and Flight International) that these events cause pyrolised organophosphates, particularly tricresyl phosphate (TCP), to enter the cockpit and cabin. TCP is a neurotoxin that has caused many crew all over the world to lose their health and, as a result, their pilot licences or their ability to function as cabin crew.
Air Berlin has strenuously avoided answering Flightglobal’s question as to whether it has warned the 262 passengers of the risk to their health. Actually there is no treatment for organophosphate poisoning, so it could be argued that there’s no point in telling them. But at least they would know what might have caused a sudden deterioration in their general health and where to go for reparation. That, of course, is another reason not to tell them.
Finally, by not telling the passengers, Air Berlin would be doing no wrong according to the law, because the aviation agencies, including EASA, have strenuously avoided getting involved in the passenger and crew health aspects of bleed air contamination on the grounds that passenger and crew health is not their business. Cabin air contamination has not yet caused a crash. It nearly has, as the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch has reported, but not quite. The almost-incapacitated crew managed to land the aircraft.
The solution? Pilots should put oxygen masks on immediately they smell fumes. So that’s all right then.
So, after a fume event, all the airlines have to do is to is report it, repair the oil seal and go on as if nothing has happened until the next time.
I wonder how many European passengers know that the aviation authorities say that passenger and crew health on board public transport aeroplanes is of no concern to them?