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British Airline Crew Members Seek Legal Action over Cabin Air Quality

Recently, 17 current and former cabin crew members from major British airlines initiated legal action against their employers over the cabins’ air quality, alleging that exposure to contaminated air has resulted in serious illnesses. Represented by Unite, a British union advocating for approximately 20,000 airline crew members, the employees are calling for improved air quality regulations, as well as the implementation of air quality monitoring on all UK flights.

In response to these allegations, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has recruited German researchers to conduct a 17-month study to investigate potential exposure to toxic fumes. The study, which will include air quality assessments for 60 commercial flights, will ultimately look at the composition of bleed air, which is the air that enters an aircraft’s cabin via its engine system to supply oxygen for everyone on board. Although bleed air is kept separate from the engine by a system of valves and seals, worn-out equipment can lead to contamination. Those seeking legal action argue that this can allow potentially toxic jet fuel organophosphates such as tricresyl phosphate, or TCP, to contaminate the cabin air.

Boeing and Airbus have stated that their cabin air is safe to breathe and carries no risk of toxicity. Meanwhile, a UK independent research committee has estimated that one in every 2,000 flights experiences a fume-related incident, and the EASA has documented over 80 flight returns or diversions due to such incidents over the past decade. Additionally, the UK Civil Aviation Authority has received more than 1,300 reports documenting smoke or fumes on British passenger airlines since 2010. However, studies have not revealed a link between these events and long-term health issues.
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