Contaminated cabin air back in the spotlight

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events



Reprinted from Aviation Business, Asia Pacific

Air quality crusader Susan Michaelis has been awarded a PhD by the University of NSW for a thesis entitled Health and flight safety implications from exposure to contaminated air in aircraft.

The 931-page thesis examines the use of aircraft bleed air, taken from jet engines to supply breathing air in commercial and military transport aircraft.

The findings cover the health consequences, frequency and implications of exposure to contaminated bleed air, the usefulness of air sampling in determining potential adverse effects and the extent of industry and Government actions over six decades.

Key findings of Michaelis’ research include:

* Bleed air contaminated by synthetic jet engine oils and hydraulic fluids, is a regular and normal occurrence and far more common than previously accepted and is a consequence of the current bleed air system design used in aircraft;

* There are significant short- and long-term health effects being reported as a direct result to documented exposure events that validate claims of adverse health effects in exposed individuals;

* Air monitoring studies undertaken cannot be used to suggest the air supplied in aircraft is safe and healthful;

* There is extensive data showing that the aviation industry has been aware of exposure to aircraft contaminated air and hazardous effects since the 1950s.

* The aviation industry and Governments globally have failed to deal appropriately with the problem, particularly as it was known in 1954 that inhalation exposure to highly heated synthetic jet oils was toxic and hazardous;

* The 1950s and 1960s awareness that synthetic jet engine oils leak as a feature of using bleed air with the concerns of increased toxicity hazards with temperatures in more modern engines rising in the future, was then ignored in favour of increased engine temperatures for economic and operational reasons;

* Crews and passengers breathing contaminated bleed air are exposed to serious inflight safety hazards with potential adverse health affects.

The thesis argues that the precautionary principle, occupational health and safety guidelines and aviation regulations are being ignored by the aviation industry, which continues to claim that cabin air is safe.

The systemic misuse of available data is widespread, secondary to commercial objectives, and places passenger and crew health and flight safety at serious risk.

The thesis concludes that the use of bleed air on commercial aircraft with no form of contaminated air detection or filtration system present should be discontinued, because the risk to health and flight safety is no longer acceptable.


Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events


Reprinted from The National Transportation Safety Board




National Transportation Safety Board

Washington, DC 20594


March 24, 2011



The National Transportation Safety Board today opened an investigation into an air traffic control service interruption incident that occurred early Wednesday morning at Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia.

On March 23, 2011, between approximately 12:04 am and 12:28 am EDT, an air traffic control service interruption occurred when two air carrier aircraft and controllers at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) were unable to establish contact with the supervisory controller working alone in the DCA control tower.

The last radio transmission made by the tower controller before the service interruption occurred at 11:55 pm EDT on March 22.  At 12:04 am EDT on March 23, American Airlines flight 1012, operating as a scheduled 14 Code of Federal Regulations part 121 flight between Dallas-Fort Worth and DCA, was instructed to contact Washington tower by approach controllers at TRACON. 

Following numerous attempts to contact the DCA tower, the flight crew executed a missed approach. The crew reported to TRACON their inability to make contact with the DCA tower; TRACON then vectored the aircraft back to the airport for another approach. 

The approach controller and the TRACON supervisor on duty made several attempts to contact the tower controller via telephone, but were unable to establish contact. The TRACON approach controller advised the crew of American flight 1012 that the tower was apparently unattended, and that the flight would be handled as an arrival to an uncontrolled airport. 

The flight was again cleared for approach, and instructed to switch to the tower frequency. At 12:12 am, the crew returned to the tower frequency, still unable to make contact with the tower, made position reports while inbound, and landed on runway 1.

United Airlines flight 628T (UAL628T), operating as a scheduled 14 CFR 121 passenger flight from Chicago-O’Hare International Airport to DCA, was advised of the service interruption by the TRACON approach controller and subsequently transferred to the tower frequency at 12:22 am.

The United flight, unable to make contact with the tower, made position reports on the tower frequency while inbound, and landed at 12:26 am.

At 12:28 am, American flight 1012, on the ground at DCA, established contact with the tower controller, and normal services were resumed.

The controller in the tower at the time of the incident, along with other FAA officials at DCA, was interviewed by the NTSB today. The controller, who had 20 years’ experience, 17 of those at DCA, indicated that he had fallen asleep for a period of time while on duty. He had been working his fourth consecutive overnight shift (10 pm – 6 am). Human fatigue issues are one of the areas being investigated.

The NTSB will be interviewing officials at the TRACON facility tomorrow. NTSB Air Traffic Control specialist Scott Dunham is the investigator-in-charge. He is being assisted by an NTSB human performance specialist. Parties to the investigation are the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers union.


Citing a fatal aircraft accident and two incidents that occurred in a 23-month period between 2007 and 2009, on Monday, March 21, the NTSB issued a safety recommendation letter to the FAA asking the agency to improve the safety of air traffic control operations by prohibiting air traffic controllers from providing supervisory oversight while performing operational air traffic duties. The entire letter is available at




Turbulence led to spinal injury for plane stewardess

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events

A SAS Scandinavian Airlines plane
An air stewardess suffered spinal injuries when her plane hit turbulence and she was thrown into the air.The Boeing 737 SAS Scandinavian Airlines flight was approaching Heathrow Airport in August last year when the incident happened.

The AAIB report said the stewardess had been in a crew seat, unrestrained, and was making a passenger announcement.

The airline had since made safety recommendations, the AAIB added.

After being thrown into the air, the woman landed back on the seat and badly injured her back.

The stewardess was in considerable pain and had to remain on the galley floor as the flight came in to land, the AAIB report said.

‘Unaware of announcement’Another cabin crew member had managed to sit in an empty seat but was not able to fasten the seatbelt before she was thrown into the air. She hit the cabin roof but was unhurt.

The injured stewardess had to stay in hospital for 10 days following the incident on the afternoon of 23 August.

The AAIB report said the seatbelt sign was on at the time but the cabin crew were unrestrained and were securing the cabin for landing.

Three out of four of the cabin crew had not been aware of a public address announcement warning of possible turbulence, the report found.

The AAIB said the airline’s procedures called for cabin crew to be seated with seatbelts fastened when the seatbelt signs were on.

SAS carried out an investigation which highlighted three similar occasions of cabin crew suffering injuries due to turbulence.

In one case, two crew in the forward galley suffered fractures.

Toxic fumes on planes: Can it hurt you?

Author: Alisa Brodkowitz  |  Category: Other Events



By Molly Grantham –

Reprinted From- CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) –

A veteran U.S. Airways Flight Attendant says toxic fumes are being released into planes.  Crew members are sick.  Some so sick, they’re still not back at work a year later.  WBTV investigated these claims in a months-long investigation. 

According to Association of Flight Attendants, a union which says it represents half of all flight attendants, 30 U.S. Airways aircraft on the east coast have been impacted in the past year.  Many are Charlotte-based planes. 

“I’m talking because I think passengers need to know,” said one veteran flight attendant who came forward under the condition we protected her identity.  “I felt like I had to come forward for the health of myself and my co-workers.”

We’ll call this veteran flight attendant “Jane Doe.”  Jane works and lives on the east coast.  She says sometime in the past three years she was on a plane that had toxins accidentally released. 

“Everyone smelled it,” she says.  “We communicated with our pilots and in the end everyone was treated medically.  Everyone of the crew members involved has seen some sort of medical help.”

Including her. 

“Flight attendants are talking about this more and more,” says Jane.  “We are educating ourselves.  But headaches and breathing problems – serious respiratory issues – continue to be a problem for some crew members [who have been affected].  U.S. Airways has their own doctor in which you must go see in the case of a situation that happens in your work.  But overall U.S. Airways has not been overly-supportive of what has gone on and I don’t know why.”

On the flip side, Jane says the pilot’s union has been very supportive.  Captain James Ray is the spokesman for the U.S. Airways Pilot Association and a working pilot who still flies U.S. Airways aircraft.  WBTV talked with him on-camera.

“Toxins produced from oil in the aircraft engines have caused a lot of problems with our industry,” Captain Ray said.  “Pilots and flight attendants alike have been sent to the hospital on multiple occasions.  Some remain in the hospital.  We have pilots who have lost their FAA certificate because of exposure to these toxins.  So it is certainly a concern we have.”

He said he wants passengers to speak up if they smell something.  In the same breath he doesn’t want to create mass panic.

“It isn’t a widespread issue,” he said.  “There haven’t been a lot of people who have gotten sick.  But crew members are exposed more often than your average passenger.  We’re more susceptible to problems.  As a pilot I am not only concerned about my health, I’m concerned about the health of the passengers as well.”

WBTV reported odd odors released into a U.S. Airways plane twice in 2010.  U.S. Airways confirmed both cases.  Once was on Flight 1041 on January, 2010.  U.S. Airways confirms the crew members sickened on that flight are still not back at work.  They were all transported to the hospital, but released several hours later.

The airline says no passengers on that flight reported any lingering effects.

The other case was in November of 2010.  U.S. Airways has not said whether those employees are all back at work yet or not.  U.S. Airways also says it was not toxic fumes in that case, but a ground power issue at the gate.  A spokeswoman for the airline says after the U.S. Airways maintenance team checked out the plane, it was deemed safe to fly.  

But on the night of that incident last November WBTV contacted Mecklenburg County Poison Control.  Poison Control confirmed to us it did give advice to at least one physician on how to proceed and treat a crew member.

As both “Jane” and Captain Ray will be quick to point out, this doesn’t happen on every plane.  It’s obviously not supposed to happen.  It is, they also make sure to emphasize, happening on various airlines. 

“I am proud to be a part of this company,” says Jane, “but they have dropped the ball with this issue.  They need to pick that ball back up and protect the people out there making a difference and putting themselves out there.”

U.S. Airways says it’s aware of the concerns, but that it is “confident the air quality in all of our aircraft satisfies all safety standards.”

A spokesperson also issued this statement:  “Our maintenance program for systems affecting cabin air quality met or exceed manufacturer recommendations.  We encounter various technical problems with our fleet of highly complex and sophisticated aircraft, just as all airlines do.  We track every problem, every part and every fix for every aircraft on a flight-by-flight basis and we take the safe operation of our 3,200 daily flights as our most important priority.  While these odor-related complaints are uncommon, we take them very seriously and our safety, pilot, flight attendant and maintenance teams work closely together to investigate and resolve.”

Also, the list below is from the U.S. Airline Pilots Association’s Safety Committee.  It was issued January 14th, 2011 and lists tail numbers of 30 U.S. Airways aircraft the union claims have had documented air contamination incidents.

We asked U.S. Airways about this list. 

A spokeswoman said, “The list is really not accurate.  It’s talking about ANY odor-related complaints over what could be a period of several years.  We look into any odor-related complaint and track it.  Some of these odor-related complaints could be fume-related, but to say all of these are is just not accurate.  They could be things like electrical smells, could be lavatory, could be a variety of things.  We take all complaints seriously.”