John Hoyte lost his medical category as a BAE Systems 146 captain in 2006 a victim of aerotoxic syndrome, which left him seriously neurologically damaged. He founded the Aerotoxic Association in June 2007
I set up the Aerotoxic Association several years ago after suffering the neurological damage that ended my flying career. The reason for the delay is that it took me so long to find out what had caused the symptoms I suffered. When I did find out, and had recovered sufficiently to be able to organise myself again, I wanted to ensure my pilot and cabin crew colleagues in the industry have the opportunity to learn about the risks they face, the symptoms of Aerotoxic Syndrome, and how to recognise onboard fume events that might have exposed them to the cockpit and cabin fumes that cause the problem.
The AA is not alone. Last week I attended the three-day annual general meeting in London of the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive, another voluntary association, but specifically dedicated to researching the technical origins of the problem, the thousands of occurrences and studies on record in various countries, and potential solutions like bleed air filtration or the use of engine oil which does not contain the synthetic anti-wear additives that contain toxic organophosphates.
The risk occurs when these organophosphates get into cabin air in the form of fumes or aerosol mist, which can happen when engine oil seals fail. The GCAQE tracks all this and also follows the results of ongoing medical research into the precise nature of the damage these fumes do to people's brains and nervous systems.
Meanwhile, I have received an invitation to address politicians, pilots, lawyers and union leaders in Berlin on 18 May about the work of the Aerotoxic Association. I would not have been physically and mentally able to do this during the years from 1989 to 2007; but now I relish the opportunity to share a growing sense of international understanding of Aerotoxic Syndrome - 10 years after the medical issue was first identified by an Australian Senate working committee in 2000.
Daily, at AA, I get email enquiries from all over the world - no two people with identical symptoms, but the combinations have become familiar over the years. That's what you would expect when different people have different exposures. The similarities are how pilots always go to part-time working first, feeling unaccountably exhausted and unable to think straight. Later comes the final breakdown, and they always 'fail safely'. Sometimes they return to flying after a period of sick leave, but when they go back on the line the symptoms return, and they leave flying, often not aware of what is wrong with them.
Just recently, the media seem to be working out that passengers breathe the same air as aircrew and often find they have the same symptoms, which I now firmly believe are frequently interpreted by passengers as 'jet lag'. The media naturally appear to have difficulty accepting the idea of aeroplanes being flown by brain-damaged pilots as it doesn't fit the desired image - despite 81% of British Airline Pilot Association pilots reporting "feeling fatigued", and those who suffer Aerotoxic Syndrome encounter a resolute refusal by airline medical officers to give a name to the problem.
At the Aerotoxic Association, we rely on others to provide badly needed resources. In 2007, I was fortunate to meet Tony Watson, a fellow local sufferer and former Avro RJ and Boeing 757 pilot. He has become the Aerotoxic webmaster and we pride ourselves on getting accurate balanced up-to-date information to our many visitors, and a weekly visit helps us deal with the loneliness of suddenly losing one's job. We dispatch a quarterly newsletter summarising the latest developments.
The disciplines of aviation that we had learned - punctuality, team work, caution, knowing when to take a calculated risk, and the 'never give up' attitude serves us well in our pursuit of getting the authorities to recognise Aerotoxic syndrome as an accepted medical term, and to face inconvenient facts.
Just this week, two cabin crew who have had similar ill health for many years found out about this "best-kept secret in aviation", and after discussing it, left us in shock and were apparently unable to speak about it on their drive home. They have recently had private medical tests, which indicate exposure to chemicals.