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Friday, September 25, 2020

British Airways pilot overcome by ‘sweaty socks’ fumes and had to make emergency landing at Heathrow

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A British Airways pilot was forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow after he was overcome by fumes described as smelling like ‘sweaty socks’ and ‘manure’.

The Airbus A320 from Zurich had to make the emergency landing from 4,000ft when the stench made its way into the cockpit on September 23, last year.

The pilots put down the oxygen masks after feeling unwell, especially the co-pilot who had sore eyes and throat, nausea and vomited out of the window upon landing.  

The British Airways pilot made the emergency landing at Heathrow airport after he and his co-pilot began to feel unwell in September last year

The British Airways pilot made the emergency landing at Heathrow airport after he and his co-pilot began to feel unwell in September last year

None of the 145 passengers or cabin crew reported feeling ill but, once they had safely landed, the pilot and co-pilot were taken to hospital and released the same day, reports The Times.

In the Air Accidents Investigation Branch’s (AAIB) report, released yesterday, it says the operator and the AAIB carried out an investigation but could not identify the source of the fumes. 

The report detailed five other similar incidents which occurred with the same operator on the same aircraft type.

In 2019, British Airways reported 398 smell, smoke and fumes events on the the Airbus A320 series aircraft (pictured)

In 2019, British Airways reported 398 smell, smoke and fumes events on the the Airbus A320 series aircraft (pictured) 

Some common factors between each of the incidents included taking place on short-haul European inter-city flights and often in damp humid environments. 

A startling 3,166 reports of smell, smoke or fumes were reported to the AAIB in the last five years. 

Not the first time: Shocking number of ‘fume events’ reported 

 The AAIB’s report into British Airways’s emergency landing at Heathrow revealed the shocking number of similar incidents which have been reported. 

  • In 2019, British Airways reported 536 smell, smoke or fumes events to the Civil Aviation Authority  
  • Of these, 398 involved the Airbus A320 series aircraft
  • 37 fume events from various commercial operators and aircraft types reported to AAIB in the past 12 months
  • As many as 107 fume events reported from various commercial operators and aircraft types in the last five years
  • 3,166 reports of smell, smoke or fumes reported to the CAA in the last five years 
  • 674 of these reports were submitted in the last 12 months 
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Of those recorded, a variety of causes were noted including an engine oil seal failure and another which chalked the cause of the smell down to a burnt pastry in a galley oven. 

The AAIB said despite numerous reports of similar incidents occurring ‘sporadically’ in recent years, to date all investigations have been unable to determine a cause in all but a few events.   

The government body said all the investigations had not identified a source of ‘great concern’. 

The German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (BFU)14 carried out a safety study which focussed on the potential health impairments of such events and, despite the wealth of data and evidence available, a common physical cause of these events could not be identified. 

The operator and aircraft manufacturer of the Zurich flight said they have taken action to try to reduce the number of events by introducing developed maintenance procedures to identify the source of fumes, changes to flight crew operating procedures and potential modifications to enhance cabin air recirculation.

A BA spokesman told the The Times: ‘We would never operate an aircraft if we believed it posed any health or safety risk to our customers or crew. 

‘Research commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency in 2017 concluded that the air quality on board aircraft was similar or better than in other indoor environments.’

In January this year, similar to the incident in September last year, a BA captain sent a Mayday alert and wore an oxygen mask as he was forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow after his co-pilot was overcome by suspected fumes while at the controls. 

The evening flight from Athens was four nautical miles from London when the first officer, who was flying the A320 jet, fell ill.

As he could no longer function properly, the captain was forced to take over the four hour flight on January 2 and raise the alarm in the final stages of the flight. 

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