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Air quality

The issue of air pollution and what unions can do

Poor air quality on aircraft has negatively affected cabin crew, pilots, ground staff and others. It is an issue that needs investigation followed by regulation.

Aviation workers have reported symptoms ranging from general malaise to tunnel vision, fainting and memory loss – serious health issues that also compromise the health and safety of other workers and passengers.

What causes air contamination?

In the aircraft cabin of modern passenger aircraft, air supplied by the ventilation system is typically ‘bled’ off the engines. This means it can be contaminated by engine oils, hydraulic fluid, de-icer, ozone and exhaust fumes. 

The unfiltered contaminated air reaches the cabin or flight deck and can sometimes be detected by an unpleasant odour and even accompanied by visible fumes.  The fumes contain a complex mixture of chemicals that include carbon monoxide, organophosphates and irritant compounds such as acrolein, formaldehyde and aromatic amines.

Ground workers who labour near the exhaust from aircraft and ground equipment such as vehicles and loading equipment are exposed to a complex mix of potentially harmful pollution, as well as the pesticides used in some countries to disinfect aircraft.

You can also watch our cabin crew video Contaminated air: what you need to know

We want to influence aviation regulators

Both regulation and knowledge of the issues are currently limited. This, coupled with reluctance to admit there is a problem, means that incident reporting is also weak. This makes it difficult to identify and correct these problems. Our aim is to change this by influencing bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the EU’s Centre for Standardisation (CEN).

We’re also working collaboratively with organisations such as the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive (GCAQE) to raise our concerns with the body setting the EU standard.

What can you do to help airline workers?

  • Raise awareness of air quality issues among your union members
  • Collaborate with organisations such as the GCAQE
  • Join us in lobbying for change in aviation at national, regional and global levels