LONDON, UK — A retired pilot has become a whistle-blower in the airline industry after he says the job he loved made him sick.
“I was ill-health retired at the peak of my career. I was only 44. I went from doing the Iron Man triathlon to unable to run a mile. So it absolutely knocked the life out of me,” said Tristan Loraine, a former commercial airline pilot.
Loraine believes long-term exposure to toxic fumes distributed through the aircraft cabin air systems of the planes he was flying led to his health problems.
“I used to get chemical blister burns on my nose, then I lost feeling in my fingers and part of my feet and I felt after some of these events like someone hit me across the head with a baseball bat,” Loraine said.
Loraine has been investigating what caused his health concerns since 2001 and recently completed a feature-length documentary film about his findings called “Everybody Flies.”
“We have a design flaw, we need to fix it.”
The documentary plays out like a Hollywood thriller, documenting decades of investigations and complaints by industry whistleblowers that have so far led to no regulatory action by the FAA.
“We’re not trying to sensationalize it, we’re trying to say we have a design flaw, we need to fix it,” Loraine said. “Every passenger aircraft flying today provides the air that you breathe, whether you’re in first-class or economy comes from the compression section of the engines.”
In his film, Loraine documents his findings.
“The breathing air gets sucked in through the engines and is totally unfiltered. This air, also known as bleed air gets contaminated with engine oils and hydraulic fluids. What’s worse, this is happening in varying degree on all flights,” he said.
Loraine says the oil particles are so tiny, they penetrate current air cabin filters.
And he says passengers don’t notice anything until contamination rises to a high level.
Hundreds of “Fume” incidents reported each year
The FAA database, which tracks problems on U.S. commercial flights, listed 244 “fume” incidents between February 1 of 2020 and February 1 of this year, when passenger volume was less than half its normal level.
In the reports, captains describe the fumes as “strong, foul, oily musty odor,” “a vomit-like smell” and “a dirty sock/musty/chemical smell.”
“Will this exposure affect you? Who knows? Maybe not. Probably not, but what about the vulnerable passenger? Do we want to be taking a risk with a pregnant mother?” Loraine said.
Loraine is proposing improved filtration systems and sensors on commercial passenger aircraft, a proposal he says has the backing of several pilot and airline employee unions.
Airlines for America, a trade association that represents the airline industry doesn’t believe there’s a problem with cabin air quality.
A spokesperson sent this statement when we contacted them about Loraine’s claims:
Safety is the top priority of U.S. airlines, and we are committed to safeguarding the well-being of our passengers and crewmembers by providing a healthy environment on every flight. Modern aircraft have highly effective environmental control systems that filter air as it is circulated throughout the aircraft cabin. Multiple studies over the years have consistently concluded that cabin air meets or exceeds health and safety standards, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s recent Aviation Public Health Initiative report [npli.sph.harvard.edu] concluded that the HEPA filters on commercial aircraft remove, at a minimum, 99.97% of the particulate matter from cabin air.
“Passengers are in the dark”
“The passengers are in the dark about this and we hope by making the film that the public will say to the airlines ‘Look, I’ll pay another quarter for my airline ticket fit the filtration systems please,’” Loraine said.
The documentary was scheduled for release last year but was delayed due to the pandemic.
Loraine has organized an online international aircraft cabin air conference which kicks off March 15.
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