One of the objectives of the Fly Aware Foundation is to raise awareness among crew members, frequent flyers, and ground personnel, basically anyone who regularly faces exposure to exhaust fumes, oil vapors, and other hazardous substances, such as hydraulic fluid fumes in and around aircraft. It is essential for anyone who encounters these risks regularly to be aware of the associated health risks.
Risks Denied for Decades
For decades, the aviation industry categorically denied the risks associated with the frequent use of these toxic substances. Fume events were claimed to be extremely rare, and cabin air pollution due to leaking oil seals in the engines and hydraulic leaks was considered negligible. Not too long ago (in 2017), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) even dared to state that the air onboard an aircraft is “cleaner than in a daycare center.” However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Global Cabin Air Quality Executive (GCAQE) is a global organization dedicated to improving the quality of air onboard aircraft and recognizing Aerotoxic Syndrome as an occupational disease. Its members mainly consist of unions representing flight personnel and aviation technicians. Unfortunately, Dutch flight personnel unions (VNV, VNC, and FNV) and aviation technicians (NVLT) are still not affiliated with this organization.
International Cabin Air Conference in London
On September 17 and 18, 2019, the GCAQE organized the International Cabin Air Conference in London, providing an opportunity to stay informed about the latest developments and insights into this issue, both from a technical and medical perspective, as well as from a legal standpoint. The Fly Aware Foundation was present at this event, as were unions from around the world, with representation from virtually all neighboring countries. Unfortunately, Dutch unions once again chose not to attend, which was a missed opportunity. The NVLT was the positive exception, as the only Dutch union represented at the conference this year.
Following the conference, an article was published on the NVLT website about the risks that Aircraft Maintenance Technicians face while performing their work, particularly related to organophosphates in the work environment. This signals an increasing awareness of health risks, especially concerning organophosphates.
Awareness and concern among flight personnel are also growing. This has resulted in a further increase in the number of reported fume events (although they are still often referred to as “odor incidents”). For example, British Airways reported 56 fume events in the period from September to October alone, mostly involving the A320 series, with several flights forced to return, divert, or make precautionary/emergency landings, including evacuations after landing.
We also observe more and more crew members (as well as frequent flyers) find their way to Stichting Fly Aware for information and advice. Many of them purchase e.g. the Sky Mask, which is offered on our website, and carry it with them on every flight. After all, , your smokehood may not always be readily available and only works for 15-20 minutes
Importance of Reporting
Stichting Fly Aware is pleased with this heightened awareness. It is essential to take preventive measures for your own protection, such as carrying a mask with you. Furthermore, it is of the utmost importance (and also legally required) to ensure that every fume event is officially reported, even if your cockpit crew does not see the necessity or refuses to do so! Only in this way can the extent of this problem be accurately assessed, and realistic numbers on the frequency of fume events become available.
Motivate Your Union
Lastly, it is important to make it clear to your union that they need to take these issues seriously. Based on reports of fume events, they are the ones who can demand measures from employers, such as the installation of full-flow bleed air filters and detection equipment, as well as the proper execution of maintenance (thorough cleaning of the air conditioning system) after a fume event. These measures are necessary to ensure a safe working environment and clean air for everyone on board!
We wish you many safe flights and happy landings!