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04 November 2016

BA Accused of Downplaying Health Risks of 'Fume Events' on Flights

A BA plane bound for London from San Francisco was
diverted to Vancouver last month after crew became ill.
Photo:  Steve Parsons/PA
BA accused of downplaying health risks of 'fume events' on flightsby Gwyn Topham, The Guardian, 
3 November 2016

Unite union pushes for review into ‘toxic air’ incidents said to be making crews feel sick but airline denies the claim

A trade union representing 20,000 cabin crew has accused British Airways of downplaying the health risks of “fume events” on aircraft, in the wake of a BA plane being diverted when crew became unwell.

Unite, which has been pushing for an inquiry into the effects of cabin air on crew health, has been further concerned by BA referring internally to the incident as an “odour event”.

A BA flight was diverted to Vancouver on its way back to London from San Francisco on 25 October when 11 crew on the Airbus A380 reported feeling sick after inhaling fumes in the cabin. All 25 crew members were taken to hospital on landing as a precaution.

Exchanges recorded between the plane and air traffic control show that the pilot sought permission to land because of a “fume event”, involving “toxic fumes, toxic gas-like fumes”.

A further incident briefly occurred the following day on another BA service, flight BA 269 from Heathrow to Los Angeles. Although the flight continued as normal, according to Unite, crew on the flight deck put on oxygen masks after becoming aware of fumes.

Unite has been pressing for a public inquiry into cabin air quality and “aerotoxic syndrome”. Neither the UK industry regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), nor British Airways have recognised what campaigners believe to be a syndrome affecting plane crew who are exposed to air contaminated by organophosphates.

The union’s director of legal services, Howard Beckett, said: “It is clear from all the reports we’ve received and the exchanges between the flight deck and air traffic control that the incident on board the diverted BA flight from San Francisco to London Heathrow was more serious than a mere ‘odour event’.

“Downplaying serious toxic fume events on board aircraft as ‘odour events’ smacks of spin and an attempt to manipulate official statistics to downplay how widespread the problem really is in the industry.

“Fume events and continued exposure to contaminated cabin air can lead to serious ill health with long-term debilitating effects on people’s wellbeing.”

The airline said the designation did not mean incidents were not reported, both by crew to the airline and then on to the CAA. A BA spokeswoman said: “Safety is always our priority. There has been no change in the way in which we investigate reports of this nature. We continue to conduct thorough and detailed investigations which we share with the CAA. We always encourage our people to report any potential incident to allow us to investigate them.”


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