[Article first published 19/2/2010] I was in London last week discussing amongst other things, the future Consumer Objective and Regulation of the Airline Industry in the UK. During that meeting, I discussed with one member of the stakeholder group, the issue of safety and in particular, the growing awareness surrounding the Aerotoxic or Sick Aircraft Syndrome issue. I expressed the view that whatever the current enquiry commissioned by Parliament, this issue is real and will not go away. I predicted that whilst some 'interested parties' are engaged in 'naysayer' activities on this subject, the next 3 to 5 years will see the growth of groups of airline passengers taking action because of their exposure to toxic fumes! As if to underline this point, today's news surrounding the emergency landing of a British airline jet, is surely a timely warning to the industry and the authorities!
Last Sunday I was onboard a Boeing 737-800 and at start up, the left engine spewed out black/white smoke and moments later, there was a smell of 'fuel' within the cabin. Readers will be pleased to read that this cleared after several minutes and the journey passed uneventfully! It does however illustrate an experience that is voiced to us by Consumers!
If confidence is paramount for Consumers, then should they be encouraged by the safety provisions within EU Directive 2111/2005? We note that the EU Commission states,
' The list [EU Black-List] serves as a preventive instrument for safeguarding aviation safety. This is illustrated by the numerous instances where the Community has successfully addressed potential safety threats well ahead of resorting to the ultimate measure of imposing restrictions'.
What 'numerous instances' are the Commission referring to?
What kind of 'potential safety threats' have been addressed on behalf of EU Consumers?
One simple question; how does the Consumer know all this, should they simply rely on such statements of assurance?
Perhaps the time has come to seriously consider truly enhancing Consumer access to safety information, as envisaged by the 'weak' EU Directive 2111/2005?
We have already contributed information to the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Our latest report to The European Aviation Safety Agency, with survey results from Consumers and aircrew, illustrates what we have contended since 2006/7, that this is a common experience onboard aircraft around the world.
We also helpfully set out how we think this issue should be dealt with, through the creation of a 'no-fault protocol'. We believe that by adopting this route, Consumers, Airlines, Aircraft Manufacturers, Oil Companies and Governments, could deal with the complex issues surrounding this real 'event', in a mature program, to put right what is clearly going wrong!
However, I suspect that most of these groupings, will either adopt entrenched positions or will simply have their voice drowned out!
Whilst I am naturally pleased to read that in today's instance, no-one appears to have suffered any ill-effects and the aircraft was landed safely, attention must now be concentrated on the global future occurrences of this problem [just a suggestion - it might be re-assuring for Consumers to hear that this was a 'one-off' for this particular aircraft?].
Insofar as the wider issues of Aertoxic or Sick Aircraft is concerned, it must be obvious to stakeholders, that passengers and crew will I believe have no other choice in the future, but to take action through the courts, unless resolute action is taken to confront this issue - this is not going to go away!