Pilots train for years to earn themselves a seat in a jet cockpit, but concerns about air quality and faulty cockpit window heaters suggest it may not be the healthiest work environment. The FAA plans to issue an airworthiness directive this week that will require operators to either inspect or replace some windows in the cockpits of Boeing 757, 767 and 777 aircraft, in an effort to prevent smoke, fire or cracking of the windows caused by faulty electrical connections. In the last 20 years, 11 fires have been reported, the most recent in May. Also this week, a former Qantas pilot said he suffered symptoms including difficulty concentrating, regular bouts of bronchitis and gastric illnesses, and even an episode of partial paralysis due to toxic gasses in the cabin airflow. A report on cabin air quality by the U.K. government is three months overdue, fueling speculation that information is being suppressed, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
Concern about the air quality in jets has been around for years, prompting numerous studies and even the formation of a support group called the Aerotoxic Association. In the U.S., the pending FAA reauthorization bill includes a provision that would require the FAA to complete a study of the air quality in airline cabins within one year. “This amendment is necessary because the air in the passenger cabin is a mixture of re-circulated cabin air and fresh air that is compressed in the airplane engine,” said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who proposed the amendment. “That haze or smoke that enters the cabin air is a toxic soup and can contain carbon monoxide gas as well as chemicals that can damage your nervous system called tricresylphosphates (TCPs). Exposure to TCPs can initially cause stomach ache and muscle weakness, followed by delayed memory loss, tremors, confusion, and many other symptoms.” The reauthorization bill remains stalled in Congress.