The Senior Coroner for the County of Dorset, Sheriff Stanhope Payne, has been investigating the death of Mr. Richard Westgate, who was a pilot for British Airways (BA), for the last two years.
Mr. Westgate, aged 43, was on medical leave when he died. He believed he had been poisoned by repeated exposure, during his career, to contaminated cabin air.
The coroner has not concluded his investigation, and as a result the inquest has not yet been heard. However, he has recently written to British Airways and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to express his concerns about the evidence he has seen to date.
His report entitled “Report to Prevent Future Deaths”, associates Mr. Westgate’s death with the presence in his body of organophosphate toxins that are present in aircraft cabin air. The report makes a series of statements about the presence of toxins in cabin air and their potential effects on occupants. He states that in his opinion
“there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken”.
The Coroner has told BA and the CAA:
“In my opinion urgent action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe your organisations have the power to take such action”.
He has given them a strict time line to respond by 13 April 2015, and demands statements from both organisations supplying him with the details of action they intend to take to counter the organophosphate threat to passenger and crew health to prevent further such deaths, or justifying their intent not to take action.
The CAA is responsible for monitoring and maintaining air quality on planes. It is common practice in the airline industry to use warm, compressed air from aircraft engines to pressurise the cabin. Although the CAA acknowledges that aerotoxic syndrome is a condition that exists, it insists that occurrences are rare, and that it is nothing that passengers or crew members should be overly concerned about.
The issue of cabin air contamination has been in dispute across the industry for many years, and it can affect all jet airliners that use engine bleed air to pressurise and ventilate the cabin. The Boeing 787 is the only modern jet that does not use engine bleed air for the cabin.
Both BA and the CAA have said that they will be preparing responses to the investigating coroner, and until then, neither will be commenting further at this time.