Pilots campaign to stop ‘poisonous’ air in airliners

Campaigners in Warwickshire are hoping a new film about “toxic” air in airliners will force the Government and aviation industry to take action.

Former pilots Capt John Hoyte from Fenny Compton, and Tony Watson, from Kenilworth, say they were grounded by aerotoxic syndrome, the result of exposure to oil fed from aeroplane engines into the cabin’s ventilation system.

They formed the Aerotoxic Association to spread awareness and campaign for a solution to the problem and Mr Hoyte has now appeared in Broken Wings, a new documentary focussing on the BAe 146, a plane particularly affected by the problem.

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Mr Hoyte, who suffered visual disturbances and had speech and language problems before being grounded, believes it is “critical” the aviation industry and government acknowledge the illness.

He said: “Smoking has been banned in public spaces but for some reason the Government says toxic fumes in confined spaces in an aircraft is OK.”

Aerotoxic syndrome is caused by a ventilation system used in jet aeroplanes since the 1950s. To maintain cabin pressure, air must be pumped from outside the plane. At first this was done with mechanical pumps but now, compressed air from the engine is mixed with recirculated air from inside the plane.

In some instances aviation oil containing tricresyl phosphate, a neurotoxin, gets into the air supply.

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Mr Watson, medically retired at only 43, says pilots often dismiss symptoms until they become severe, and doctors do not know how to diagnose the illness.

He believes it could be solved with filters in the air supply, stopping the use of tricresyl phosphate or pumping clean air from outside the aircraft.

He said: “People don’t know enough. The Civil Aviation Authority says 30 people may have been affected but we know it’s far more than that. There are probably hundreds and when you factor in cabin crew and passengers, probably thousands.

“The evidence is there but the authorities choose not to look at it.”