What if the most dangerous thing about flying was the air you were breathing? The air quality of a cabin can be one of the most important aspects of flying, but it is also one of the most ignored.
According to Traveller, the air that fills a cabin is called bleed air because it is bled from the compressor stage of a jet engine before fuel is added. Constant lubrication for the engine is necessary due to the speed at which blades rotate. However, the main ingredient used in the oil is a potent neurotoxin called tricresol phosphate, or TCP for short.
Cabin seals are used in each aircraft to stop the oil from leaking into the air system. Unfortunately, it’s common for these seals can wear and tear and consequentially allow the oil to mix in with the cabin air.
This becomes a huge problem as heightened levels of TCP in air quality can result in passengers and cabin staff suffering from areotoxic syndrome. Symptoms can include fatigue, blurred vision, nausea, breathing difficulties, headache, memory loss, convulsions, tremors and cognitive impairment.
There is no way of knowing it is happening in the plane until the symptoms begin to show in someone who has been affected. In some cases, passengers will smell something burning, or in a more extreme case the cabin can fill with smoke.
The most frightening part about this is that airline regulation authorities have no requirements for the plane to perform an emergency landing even if the cabin is filled with smoke and passengers are left in a coughing fit.
Known as the “asbestos of the skies” this syndrome can be deadly. Aircrews are the most affected industry as they show the highest amounts of areotoxic related incidents. In 2007, Areotoxic Associations was created by Capt. John Hoyte, a pilot who was forced to retire due severe illness that arose due to exposure to TCP. They have been working hard to ensure air quality in planes is permanently improved for the safety of workers and passengers.
While TCP affects everyone differently depending on enzymes in the liver, the Areotoxic Association estimated that more than 196,000 airline passengers are affected by the contaminated fumes each year.
However, a solution may be on its way as Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner will become the first airline with a no-bleed system. By placing their air ducts far away from the engine, they remove any possibility of contaminated air entering the cabin and ensure a safer trip for everyone on board.