Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum by Thomsonfly

  TUI NE is the UK holding company of the group of companies that includes the UK tour operator and retailer, TUI UK Limited and the UK's third largest carrier in terms of fleet size, Thomsonfly Limited. Thomson Holidays is the main tour operator brand of TUI UK and is the UK's largest inclusive tour operator and Thomsonfly carries all Thomson Holiday passengers and a further 2 million seat only passengers annually.

  Thomsonfly is also the largest UK Charter Airline operating a fleet of 47 aircraft from 26 UK airports to 84 overseas destinations. Thomsonfly carried 9.5 million passengers in 2006 and operated over 60,000 sectors. Thomsonfly is also a member of the British Air Transport Association.

  Thomsonfly believes the industry has made a great deal of progress since the original report and the establishment of the Aviation Health Unit has been a very useful initiative. There are still a number of areas where Thomsonfly believes the industry would benefit from more support and timely responses to queries, from the AHU but generally the unit has provided an impartial and objective source of information for aviation health.

  The CAA's Aviation Occupational Health & Safety Steering Group (AOHSSG) currently works well with industry and is the primary contact point for Thomsonfly for many queries within this area. There is limited understanding as to how the AHU fits in with the AOHSSG and as the nature of the CAA as an organisation is one that does not readily volunteer information we would suggest that the AHU should consider raising its profile within the industry and should ensure a regular contact program with the UK based airlines to ensure an increased level of self promotion.

  Two examples of where we believe the AHU could be of great assistance to the industry would be the current concern around fatigue in pilots and the quality of cabin air.

  There has been a lot of concern raised about organophosphates in engine oils and the impact to health if the air breathed by passengers, flight deck and cabin crew contains these chemicals. Studies to date have not had independently certified data and have produced results that are difficult to interpret and that have not been accepted by the aviation medical fraternity. Recent media reports (appendix A) have claimed there is overwhelming evidence and that the industry continues to deny the problem exists. Airlines are responsible for the health and safety of our staff and we need conclusive evidence to decide what the main concern is and how best to look at a solution going forwards. Thomsonfly, along with many other UK registered airlines would welcome and would be prepared to actively participate in a properly designed study into the area of concern. To try and address this issue Thomsonfly has agreed to voluntarily participate in a study at Cranfield University on cabin air quality. This study was initially proposed by the DfT and we believe tests on equipment to be used are currently being carried out but we believe given the media interest in this area that more active communication to ensure the airlines are aware of the process of this trial should be employed.

  Thomsonfly believes that the AHU could help the industry by ensuring this trial takes place and that it takes place soon. Thomsonfly believes the AHU should work with the industry and should take the lead in actively addressing issues such as fatigue and organophosphates before they become "news" items. A regular dialogue and an attitude of action rather than reaction could have helped the industry to progress towards solutions for both of these issues.

  Many of the UK airlines employ their own medical advisor. Thomsonfly has our own medical advisor and although the Airline Medical Advisors do in fact have regular contact with the AHU we would appreciate some formal guidance on how medical advisors fit within the AHU structure. However, Thomsonfly would not be prepared to give up our own advisor even if this was clarified as we do not believe the AHU can provide the detailed response, the level of service, the speed of the service and the understanding of our business that we currently receive.

  Thomsonfly has made great efforts to ensure the information that is available to travellers is comprehensive. Thomsonfly includes a video on longhaul flights about DVT and health whilst travelling on our in flight entertainment, there is a warning about DVT in brochures, ticket booklets, in flight magazine and on our website.

  The issue of DVT is one that has been associated with confinement and so Thomsonfly believes a well designed study that compares, train seats, cinema seats and lorry drivers etc should be undertaken by the Aviation Health Unit in conjunction with the industry. This would be of assistance to the industry and provides the sort of lead on these issues that Thomsonfly believes the AHU should be taking.

  All Thomsonfly aircraft are equipped with first aid kits and a doctors kit that can only be opened with the captains' permission, and used by a doctor, paramedic or nurse. In addition to this Thomsonfly long haul and medium haul aircraft also have a 24 hour radio link to a medical service (medi-link) that can be reached in the event of an in flight emergency. This service will provide information from answering general medical queries to providing specialist information to crew and medical professionals to help in a number of medical emergencies and has helped to reduce the number of emergency diverts by 50%. The short haul aircraft will usually be able to divert to a local airport in the event of an onboard emergency.

  The same 24 hour medical service is also available by telephone to crew and engineers when they are overseas and have a health related query.

  We also have a 24 hour holiday line that is available to customers on holiday where they can obtain advice on a variety of issues, including how to access local medical assistance once overseas. As Thomsonfly is the in house airline for Thomson Holidays, in the event of an in flight medical emergency we are well placed to be able to co-ordinate rebooking of holidays, refunds of accommodation costs and being able to provide English speaking representatives at many of our overseas arrival airports to deal with friends and families of those passengers who may have experienced an in flight medical emergency.

  Thomsonfly carried over 9.6 million passengers in 2006 on approx 45,000 flights and we estimate that the medi-link service was used 3 or 4 times a week. These can range from just asking a query about a passengers high temperature to a more specialist area such as a suspected miscarriage.

  Defibrillators have also been fitted to all aircraft in the fleet and all cabin crew are trained and tested annually on how to use this equipment. The defibrillators are used on average about five times a year on board the aircraft and have even been used on a baggage handler who had a heart attack and also on an air bridge to assist a passenger. Thomsonfly has noticed an increase in the number of deaths on board that has risen from about two passengers a year in the 1990s to about four a year. There has been significant growth in passenger numbers which would account for a proportion of this increase but it is still import to note this increase occurred even though Thomsonfly has fitted defibrillators and should be considered if the decision to make defibrillators a mandatory item is being discussed.

  Thomsonfly also makes regular public announcements during the flight to ensure passengers look after their health during a Thomsonfly flight. These announcements encourage passengers to move their legs and drink lots of water, on our long haul aircraft water fountains are fitted for the convenience of the passengers. We also encourage passengers to walk around the cabin when the seat belt signs have been switched off but remind them that if the captain switches the seat belt sign back on they must return to their seats.

  Thomsonfly will also be purchasing the new 787 aircraft which has an improved internal environment which has been designed by Boeing to improve a passengers experience and enjoyment of the flight. The cabin environment has larger windows and has a greater feeling of openness and airiness that should improve the passengers' experience.

  A new health concern that has risen since the last report is the issue of flu pandemic and communicable diseases. Thomsonfly has been fully involved in governmental discussions on formulating the NHS plan and the potential concerns surrounding air travel as well as ensuring our own flu pandemic plan is in place and senior staff are aware of its content. We do however believe the AHU should consider looking at communicable diseases and providing reasoned advice to airlines on what further measures could be taken to reduce any spread either during a pandemic or in the rare occasion that we would undertake a medical evacuation flight.

  All aircraft are deep cleaned after medical evacuation flights but it is during the actual flight that Thomsonfly feels some further investigation undertaken now might benefit the industry within the next few years.

  Thomsonfly believes the industry has made some significant advances since the previous report. The number of passengers requiring medical assistance do remain low as the numbers of instances that require use of the medi-link service show.

  Thomsonfly would be happy to assist the Committee in providing further evidence if so required.

29 June 2007

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