Reports of a British Airways aircraft, en-route from San Francisco to London, having to divert to Vancouver, because of crew illness again raises the important issue of cabin air quality.
In its ABC News report, a recording purporting to be from one of the flight crew, is heard to state to Air Traffic Control:
"Toxic fumes; Toxic gas type fumes".
The aircraft, an Airbus A380, landed safely in Vancouver and all 25 crew members were taken to local hospitals 'out of an abundance of caution'.
The report suggests that some passengers were also taken ill but it is not clear whether they also received any medical treatment.
This organisation has been at the forefront of constructively engaging with all stakeholders in not only discussing, but also trying to develop an International Standard on Cabin Air Quality. It is clear that the bleed-air system that provides breathable air into the main cabin and cockpit potentially allows for the escape of pyrolised chemicals into that environment. There are many reports of cabin crew and passengers all around the world who have been overcome by fumes or smoke on-board an aircraft; it is important to note that the escape of such chemicals is not always accompanied by smoke.
One area which we believe is vital in not just recognising the extent of the problem and creating a valuable data-set, is creating a 'Passenger's Right to Know'. We argue that this Right arises whenever a fume or smoke event arises in which the following action should be deployed by the airline (we also call on National Authorities to engage in creating a better data-set for these incidents), namely:
- In the event that a smoke or fume event arises during the operation of an aircraft, passengers should be advised of that event by the crew, if not already apparent;
- Where a smoke or fume event arises during the operation of an aircraft, where possible, passengers should be advised as to the source of that event and its chemical or other constituency;
- If a smoke or fume event arises during the operation of an aircraft, passengers should be provided with immediate written confirmation of the event along with contact details for further information on that event;
- A right for passengers to know the reasons why aircraft crew are removed to hospital following a smoke or fume event;
- In the event of crew being exposed to fumes, that passengers are equally advised as to the health issues and offered immediate medical treatment;
- That National Civil Aviation Authorities publish details of all enquiries carried out by them relating to any smoke or fume events;
- That a pan-European register of smoke or fume event complaints be created which is fully open and accessible to all Consumers;
- That a pan-European body be created, possibly through EASA, charged with the investigation of all smoke or fume event complaints compiled on the register;
- That an independent body be created to receive and accept pilot and crew complaints into the operation and safety issues affecting aircraft, which is open to public scrutiny;
- That the EU creates a pan-European wide ‘Whistleblow’ campaign to heighten aircraft safety issues so as to encourage an environment of disclosure.
The response from the airline has apparently been recorded as saying:
"We are sorry for the delay to our customers’ flight but the safety and wellbeing of our customers and crew is always our top priority. The flight from San Francisco diverted to Vancouver after members of the cabin crew became unwell. Our ground team at Vancouver has arranged hotel accommodation for the customers and will book them on alternative flights as soon as possible."
If this is correct, we consider that the airline's duty in providing information to passengers does not meet what we consider is vital information that should be given to passengers; if such information had been given to passengers, we are certain that at least some of the passengers would have shared that detail with the media.
Frank Brehany, the Consumer Director for HolidayTravelWatch states:
"I am naturally concerned to hear of any incident like this and I sincerely hope that the crew of this flight make a rapid recovery to full health. I am however concerned that passengers do not appear to have been given relevant information about any potential exposure to fumes, whatever its source. I would ask that BA review this as a matter of urgency and consider providing passengers with timely information so that they themselves can determine whether or not to seek medical attention or advice. I would have also thought that by obtaining detailed passenger information on this incident, it would secure valuable information from this flight so that the airline and the manufacturer can assess and determine extra steps they may need to take to reduce or eliminate similar incidents like this within the global fleet of this aircraft model".