Airlines must take action to prevent passenger deaths from toxic fumes inside aircraft cabins, a coroner has warned.
People regularly exposed to fumes circulating in aircraft cabins faced “consequential damage to their health,” Sheriff Payne, the senior coroner for Dorset, said.
Payne, who is inquiring into the death of British Airways pilot Richard Westgate (pictured), called on the airline and the Civil Aviation Authority to take “urgent action to prevent future deaths”.
Westgate, a senior first officer, died in 2012 after claiming he had been poisoned by toxic cabin fumes.
Most airline passengers, who fly only occasionally, will not be affected by the problem, but some frequent travellers who are genetically susceptible to the toxins could fall ill.
The coroner’s report, obtained by the Telegraph, is claimed to be the first official UK recognition of so-called “aerotoxic syndrome”, a phenomenon which is blamed by some for the deaths of at least two pilots and numerous other incidents where pilots have passed out in flight.
Co-pilots can normally take over, but campaigners claim the syndrome is a suspected cause of some mid-air disasters.
The coroner’s report, sent to BA and the CAA, reportedly raises five “matters of concern”, including that “organophosphate compounds are present in aircraft cabin air”; that “the occupants of aircraft cabins are exposed to organophosphate compounds with consequential damage to their health” and that “impairment to the health of those controlling aircraft may lead to the death of occupants”.
He also says there is no real-time monitoring to detect failures in cabin air quality and that no account is taken by airlines of “genetic variation in the human species that would render individuals … intolerant of the exposure”.
The coroner called on BA and the CAA to respond to the report within eight weeks, setting out the action they propose to take.
The report is not a full verdict from an inquest, which has yet to be held in this case.
A BA spokesman said it could not comment on the case, but would consider the coroner’s report and respond.
The airline cites independent studies commissioned by the Department for Transport, which found “no evidence that pollutants occur in the cabin air at levels exceeding available health and safety standards”.
The government said that “concerns about significant risk to the health of airline passengers and crew are not substantiated”.
A spokesman for the CAA said it would consider the report in detail but said it was “nothing that passengers or crew should be overly concerned about”.
Frank Cannon, the lawyer for Westgate’s case, told the newspaper: “This report is dynamite. It is the first time a British coroner has come to the conclusion that damage is being done by cabin air, something the industry has been denying for years.”
He said he was acting for approximately 50 other aircrew allegedly affected by the syndrome, working for airlines including Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Thomas Cook and easyJet. He is also representing two passengers.
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