For decades pilots globally have been reporting ‘contaminated air events’. Moments when pilots and passengers notice a distinct smell in the aircraft. A smell often referred to as the ‘dirty sock’ smell. The smell is in fact a sign that the breathing air (which originates unfiltered from the engines) is contaminated with heated engine oils, known to contain hazardous products.
The cans of synthetic jet engine oils and hydraulic fluids passengers and crews are being exposed to on aircraft contain organophosphates and clearly state: ‘do not breathe mist or vapour from heated product; risk of cancer; suspected of damaging fertility; etc.
Contaminated air events also known as ‘fume events’, have been reported to have occurred on all passenger jet aircraft except the Boeing 787. The 787 has been designed with electrical compressors that prevents such events occurring. Fume events pose a risk to flight safety and public health. Over 12 air accident investigation branches have made over 50 safety recommendations and findings to date, including twice recommending to EASA, that all aircraft have contaminated air warning systems installed. EASA have not acted on these vital recommendations and findings.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) issued important training guidelines on the subject in 2015. However, no airline has to date acted on the guidelines or addressed the known under reporting issue around these events. The US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acknowledged over a decade ago, under reporting was extensive in the industry.
Sepla is today calling for contaminated air warning systems to be installed in the cockpit as a matter of priority and for effective bleed air filtration systems to be installed on aircraft. Companies specialized are known to have developed filtration solutions for the Airbus A320 series of aircraft which frequently has such events. However, Airbus are not supporting the important introduction of this much needed technology.
A blood test to confirm contaminated air exposures is expected to be available in 2023 which is expected to be widely used by passengers and crews following events.
Note to editors
The air you breathe on all passenger jet aircraft (apart from the Boeing 787) is provided unfiltered from the compression section of a jet engine and is known as ‘bleed air’. The ‘bleed air’ will be contaminated to a varying degree with heated synthetic jet engine oils and on occasion by heated hydraulic fluids in normal operations as a function of current engine designs. These oils and hydraulic fluids come with warnings on the cans such as: “suspected of causing cancer”, “do not breathe mist or vapour from heated product”, “suspected of damaging fertility” etc. Pilots have been impaired or totally incapacitated in flight from these exposures. Aircraft have no warning systems to warn when the air is contaminated and no airline tells passengers about these exposures or the risks.