Select Committee on Science and Technology First Report


Our report on Air Travel and Health, published in 2000, brought together for the first time the wide spectrum of health issues associated with air travel. The report stimulated research into air crew and passenger health, not only in the United Kingdom but beyond. Our understanding of the major health issues connected with air travel is now much improved—though there are still some crucial gaps in knowledge.

In 2001 the Aviation Health Working Group was created as a free-standing interdepartmental group to work with interested parties in taking forward the recommendations in the report. The Group has been generally well received by industry, crew and passenger representatives. The Aviation Health Unit was set up in 2003 within the Civil Aviation Authority to act as a focal point for aviation health in the United Kingdom, while the Civil Aviation Act 2006 gave the Secretary of State the general duty of organising, carrying out and encouraging measures for safeguarding the health of all persons on board an aircraft. These changes are welcome, though in some areas more work is needed to add substance to the organisational outlines.

Certain health issues still remain a concern. The United Kingdom has supported the World Health Organization Research into Global Hazards of Travel (WRIGHT) project that studied the risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) associated with air travel. The study concluded that for individuals without VTE risk factors travelling by air did not increase the risk of VTE any more than when travelling by other means. Phase II of the project will look more in depth at the VTE risk for individuals with existing risk factors and also will study preventative measures. We urge the Government to continue to support the project.

Public and media interest in contaminated air events, or fume events, has significantly increased in recent years. The independent Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) has conducted a scientific review of the evidence for claims that fume events have damaged the health of pilots and others, and has concluded that the link between fume events and health effects is still unproven, though worthy of further investigation. We support this general conclusion; although much anecdotal evidence has been submitted to the COT and to this inquiry regarding fume events, this evidence still falls short of conclusive scientific proof. However, we recommend that research to settle this issue one way or another be taken forward as a high priority.

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