Select Committee on Science and Technology Fifth Report


3.1 In this Chapter, we consider first the principal organisations dealing with the international and national regulation of the aircraft cabin environment. We then note the main areas in which that regulation bears upon the health and wellbeing of passengers and crew.

3.2 The great majority of such regulation deals with physical features of the cabin, limiting the scope of aircraft manufacturers at the design stage by setting certain standards that have to be met. The regulation also covers certain procedures. For example, certain safety-related information must be given to passengers before and during flight.

Regulatory structures

3.3 It was recognised at an early stage in the development of civil aviation that the cross-border nature of much air travel required international co-ordination. The present international regulatory framework has operated since the Second World War on the basis that participating States would sign the Chicago Convention of 1944, thus joining the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), set up as a specialised agency of the United Nations to agree controls on all aspects of civil aviation. National regulatory authorities were set up in most countries, such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the United Kingdom. Collaboration across Europe was augmented by the setting up of the standing European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), under ICAO auspices. Subsequently, the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) organisation was set up under ECAC to advance European integration on air safety.

3.4 These and other key aspects of the regulatory structures are described in turn below. We have drawn extensively on the memoranda provided by the Departments of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) and of Health (DoH - p 1), CAA (p 16), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE - p 23) and JAA (p 130) which contain fuller descriptions.


3.5 The fundamental purpose of ICAO is to ensure that the development of commercial aviation proceeds in a "safe and orderly manner and that international air transport services may be … operated soundly and economically" (p 1). Member States undertake to comply with agreed minimum standards, regulations and procedures by embodying these in appropriate domestic legislation. Member States also agree to accept certification from others that their standards are equal to or above the ICAO minimum requirements.

3.6 The standards include ones governing the design, continuing airworthiness, and operation of aircraft. The primary purpose is to ensure the safety of aircraft, crew, and passengers. As Mr Caplan noted (Appendix 4), no part of the underpinning Chicago Convention requires Member States to have regard to the health and comfort of air passengers. Accordingly, ICAO standards are entirely safety-orientated although, as DETR and DoH noted (p 1), some do deal with health. The relationship with health may be direct, such as medical first aid provisions and arrangements for avoiding the spread of disease. More often, the relationship is indirect - for example, in relation to the pressurisation and ventilation of passenger cabins, oxygen supplies, and emergency evacuation of aircraft (which affects a number of seat design and cabin configuration parameters).

3.7 Enforcement arrangements recognise the international nature of aircraft manufacturing and of airline operation, with responsibilities assigned as follows:

  • design criteria - the State in which the aircraft is designed;
  • airworthiness (Certificate of Airworthiness) - the State in which the aircraft is registered; and
  • operational compliance (Air Operator's Certificate) - the State in which the owning airline has its principal place of business.

3.8 ICAO occasionally agrees non-binding resolutions such as the 1994 call on Member States to initiate tobacco-smoking bans on all their international flights.


3.9 The World Health Organisation (WHO) is another specialised agency of the United Nations, established to facilitate better health for all peoples. As well as aiming to prevent the spread of infectious disease by immunisation programmes and restriction of travel by infected people, it has a particular role in relation to the aircraft cabin environment arising from its aim to prevent international transfer by aircraft of insects, which may be carriers of human, animal or plant diseases.

3.10 Accordingly, through its International Health Regulations (1969 with subsequent updates), WHO requires pesticides to be used on flights before arriving at certain destinations and on flights departing from these or other destinations. These procedures are known as "disinsection". All ICAO signatories carry out the disinsection procedures required by WHO subject to slight differences, in the case of five States, from the standard procedures that they have registered (Q 37). These insect control procedures are discussed further in paragraphs 4.24ff.

3.11 WHO additionally requires public health measures at airports related to the control of infectious diseases. It has also recently issued guidelines on tuberculosis transmission in aircraft[15].


3.12 JAA is an informal grouping of the national aviation regulatory authorities of 33 States. It was originally set up as a design standards authority at the request of European aircraft manufacturers who were beginning to build aircraft with components sourced from different European countries which had varying aviation rules and regulations (Q 344). JAA aims to secure common safety standards across Europe by means of Joint Aviation Requirements (JARs). Currently it is largely concerned with airworthiness certification, but is working towards standardisation of operational and pilot licensing requirements.

3.13 JAA standards are implemented mainly through the domestic legislation of each Member State, although some have been incorporated into European Union law. The standards are concerned primarily with the safety of aircraft, crew and passengers. JARs are concerned directly with passenger health only in relation to minimum medical first aid provisions but bear indirectly on health and comfort through standards dealing with environmental conditions including ventilation, heating and pressurisation.


3.14 The European Union has a range of legislation on the economic and safety aspects of the Common Air Transport policy, and more limited measures in the field of consumer protection. It does not have legislation specifically related to passenger health.

3.15 In the light of responses to a January 2000 Consultation Document on Air Passenger Rights in the European Union, the European Commission sent a Communication to the European Parliament and the Council in June 2000 entitled Protection of Air Passengers in the European Union[16]. This indicated plans for an assessment of the impact of cabin conditions on passengers' health, and also for legislation to improve the information available to passengers to make well-founded choices and to create new rights for passengers and improve the balance of contracts in their favour.

3.16 European legislation already deals with aircrew exposure to cosmic and other ionising radiation, as discussed in paragraphs 3.55ff.

3.17 In March 2000, the European Commission finalised an agreement between representatives of employers and employees in the aviation sector which is likely to form the basis for augmentation of the Working Time Directive. The agreement includes clauses entitling mobile staff in civil aviation to:

    (a)  a free health assessment before their assignment to duties and thereafter at regular intervals; and

    (b)  safety and health protection appropriate to the nature of their work.


3.18 CAA is the United Kingdom's regulatory authority for aviation. Its responsibilities are set out in the Civil Aviation Act 1982 alongside those of the Secretary of State for the parent Department, currently DETR. The Secretary of State is responsible for encouraging the promotion of safety in civil aviation, and for ensuring that international obligations are fulfilled. CAA is responsible for advising the Secretary of State on all civil aviation questions including safety, and for regulating air safety through licensing, certification, and the setting and monitoring of standards.

3.19 CAA lays down aviation safety standards in areas broadly similar to those of ICAO and JAA, and sets them out in regulations made under the Air Navigation Order (ANO). CAA's prime responsibilities for passengers are to regulate for their safety. It has no direct responsibilities for passenger health or comfort.


3.20 The lead on the health implications of the aircraft cabin environment is taken by DETR (Q 509). DoH's wider responsibilities for general public health give it a clear interest in pre-flight medical advice (QQ 26-28, 58 & 533) and in flight-related medical problems because treatment of those arising on flights into the United Kingdom falls mainly to the National Health Service. DoH's responsibilities also bear upon civil aviation in the areas of infectious disease, airline catering and passengers at airports.

3.21 The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 applies to aircraft in and over Great Britain but has no role outside the airspace above Great Britain[17]. The Executive (HSE) set up under the Act seeks to avoid duplicating the activities of other regulatory bodies associated with health and safety. Its interface with CAA is the subject of a Memorandum of Understanding[18]. Aircraft have been exempted from many regulations made under the governing Act (p 1). Thus, HSE has no active responsibilities in relation to the health of airline passengers or crew.


3.22 The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has responsibilities for civil aviation activities in the United States of America broadly similar to those of JAA and CAA in Europe and the United Kingdom respectively. It operates by issuing Federal Aviation Requirements (FARs)[19]. FAA's parent body, the US Department of Transportation (DoT), has extended FAA's activities into certain areas of passenger health, notably tobacco-smoking in aircraft, cabin ozone levels, and cosmic radiation. However, DoT/FAA have not made regulations relating specifically to passenger health except in the cases of smoking and ozone. JAA and FAA (which, between them, cover many of the world's aviation manufacturing and operational activities) work closely together, both formally and informally, to try to secure greater harmonisation of the regulation of civil aviation.


3.23 The world-wide international trade organisation for the schedule airline[20] industry is the International Air Transport Association (IATA). It has collaborated closely with ICAO since the latter's inception to "promote safe, regular and economical air transport for the benefit of the peoples of the world"[21]. Although not a regulatory organisation, it controls many aspects of schedule airline activities by means of Resolutions, agreed and applied by its members. Currently, it has 233 member airlines spread across more than 130 countries. The health of passengers (as distinct from safety) is not one of its major concerns, although it has achieved major improvements relating to the carrying of disabled passengers by its member airlines.

3.24 Individual countries often have their own industry trade organisations. Both the British Air Transport Association (BATA - whose members include most of the UK's charter and schedule airlines), and the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) provided us with evidence.


3.25 Key points to note from our survey of the regulatory structures are that:

    (a)  no part of the Chicago Convention requires ICAO Member States to have regard to the health and comfort of air passengers (see paragraph 3.6);

    (b)  CAA's prime responsibilities for passengers are to regulate for their safety - it has no direct responsibilities for passenger health or comfort (see paragraph 3.19), although we note that the US Department of Transportation has extended FAA's activities into certain areas of passenger health, notably tobacco-smoking in aircraft, cabin ozone levels, and cosmic radiation (see paragraph 3.22); and

    (c)  HSE has no active responsibilities in relation to the health of airline passengers or crew (see paragraph 3.21).

3.26 Where there is no regulatory limitation on the physical features of the cabin, responsibility rests principally with manufacturers. They can be expected to design with regard to efficiency, good practice and general airline requirements. Within the basic design for each aircraft type, some features of individual aircraft - particularly the seating configuration - will, subject to the regulatory authorities' minimum safety-related standards, be set by the purchasing airline. Other cabin conditions - such as temperature and ventilation - may be varied in flight at the discretion of the flight crew. Where there is no regulatory limitation on procedures, it is left to airlines and their agents to determine what they provide. Again, they can be expected to operate with regard to good practice and, with a marketer's eye, to the balance between passengers' needs and wishes.

15   WHO/TB/98.256. Back

16   European Commission, 21 June 2000, COM(2000)365, Commission No 9826/00. Back

17   There are parallel legislative provisions in Northern Ireland. Back

18   The text is reproduced on page 9 of Volume II. Back

19   c.f. JAA's JARs in paragraph 3.12. Back

20   Air services are of two types: scheduled services are run in accordance with a published timetable; and charter services are run by contract. Some major airlines run both types of operation. Back

21 Back

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