The first crack has appeared in the dike. Soon those companies and organisations claiming that contaminated air in aircraft cabins has never caused harm to crew or passenger health will not have enough fingers to plug the leaks.

An East-West Airlines BAe 146 flight attendant's courtroom success in linking a specific fume event to 18 years of respiratory illness has made a critical connection between contaminated cabin air and aerotoxic syndrome. Another case filed by Ansett cabin crew awaits.

The occurrence of cabin air contamination events has not been denied for some time. The heated oil mist brought into the cabin in bleed air is known to contain toxic organophosphates - nobody denies that either. The effects of those toxins on human health is fully acknowledged. The missing link has been the ability of plaintiffs to prove the connection between a fume event and the manifest illness that the plaintiff suffers. But it has now been done.

East West Airlines BAe 146
 © George Canciani
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That is not the end of this story. The defendants in the East-West case have 28 days to file an appeal or objection. Unless it is a credible objection it will be rejected by the court, and if another appeal is mounted the appellant risks losing again.

Meanwhile, another East-West cabin attendant has seen her case against BAE Systems cleared to be mediated by a registrar despite BAE's attempts to argue the case was "vexatious" and should be thrown out as a waste of the court's time. If the mediation, to take place in June, fails to resolve the case, it will go to trial.

Setting aside the many cases of cabin-air-related illness that victims may now feel empowered to bring to court, an important issue urgently needs to be revisited: how to stop toxic chemicals getting into cabins.

The 146, in the spotlight because of the East-West case, is not the only type troubled with cabin air contamination. All types with air conditioning from compressor bleeds suffer them, whether via the engines when airborne or auxiliary power units on the ground.

Boeing is addressing this by using electrically driven air systems on its 787. But what of existing types, and future ones like the Airbus A350 - which is planned for bleed air?

The problem could be solved by using oil without the toxic additives, which is possible, or filtering bleed air. There is a technical answer out there, and it's time to develop and adopt it.

Source: Flight International