Cambridge - According to a new study led by Harvard T.H. School of Public Health, poor air quality makes pilots more prone to failure. Scientists are now raising the question of whether bad air values in the cockpit pose a flight safety risk.
Thirty commercial airline pilots took part in the research. They were split into two groups. Pilots in each group were required to complete a three 3-hour flight simulation that consisted of 21 maneuvers without the help of autopilot.
A Pilot Examiner from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) monitored and evaluated pilot performances. The pilots and the FAA examiner were not aware of the random CO2 levels in the simulator.
The tests revealed that as carbon dioxide levels were increased pilots found it more challenging to perform complex maneuvers such as making a steep turn, recovering from stalling and circling a plane while maintaining a constant altitude. Their abilities to manage sudden emergencies, such as an engine failure during takeoff, was also affected.
The findings suggested that the pilots were 69% more likely to get a good grade on a maneuver or emergency when CO2 levels were 700 ppm compared to 2,500 ppm.
When CO2 levels were set to 1,500 ppm, the pilots were 52% more likely to more likely to exercise required maneuvers than when CO2 levels were set to 2,500 ppm.
When the researchers correlated the variation in pilot performance at 700 ppm and 1,500 ppm, the difference was not statistically notable.
The study also determined that the adverse effects of CO2 on the pilot performances became more significant the longer the pilots were in the simulator.
Using a flight simulator gave us a unique opportunity to test the impact of extreme, but rare, events in airplanes,said Piers MacNaughton, a research fellow on the study with expertise in Remote Sensing, Climatology, Meteorology.
Our results suggest that we need to know more about how air quality on the flight deck can be used to enhance pilot performance,he added.
According to the few available data, the CO2 level in the flight decks is usually less than 800 ppm. But there are signs that it can rise. It has been measured as high as 2,000 ppm and even higher during the boarding process, depending on the aircraft type and other circumstances.
While the FAA has regulations about environmental control systems of the aircraft, the National Research Council has proposed that existing standards for ventilation rates in the cockpit may be inadequate.