As part of the article “The Aircraft Environment” from BALPA’s “The Log” magazine, August-September 2004, Ex-BAe146 pilot Julian Soddy describes the effects he experienced from contaminated cabin air.
AETG (Aircraft Environment Task Group) member Capt. Julian Soddy has personal experience of the possible adverse health effects of organophosphates, which led ultimately to the loss of his medical certificate and the end of his commercial flying career.
As a BAe146 pilot over a six-year period, he says he had always considered the fumes produced by the auxiliary power unit at start-up as “noxious.” “We considered it normal to run the air conditioning packs to burn off the oil leakage, but over a long period I began to suffer severe flu-like symptoms about 10 minutes after we got airborne.”
Captain Soddy, an ex-RAF pilot with 40 years experience and, in his own words, "very fit," then noticed he was suffering from severe short-term memory loss. “I'd lose track of sentences halfway through. People were also saying that I had become irritable, which normally I am not.” A visit to his doctor revealed that the symptoms were like those experienced by people exposed to sheep-dip chemicals - which contain organophosphates. Tests revealed that, indeed, organophosphates might have been to blame. “In any case, the CAA had to cancel my medical, and that was that.”
Capt. Soddy says that while the BAe146 is clearly one of the main culprits, other aircraft such as the Boeing 757 also produce significant amounts of pollutant. He believes another factor, which as a military pilot wearing an oxygen mask never occurred, is the time spent taxiing around airports, often behind other aircraft producing exhaust fumes containing oil products.
The aircraft manufacturers are “aware of the problem,” says Capt. Soddy and are working on filters and other solutions. The newest aircraft have improved air conditioning systems and often have air cycle machinery with oil-free, air lubricated bearings.