Is the smell of kerosene dangerous?

Why does the aircraft sometimes smell like kerosene - and is that dangerous?

By Laura Graichen | November 24, 2019, 3:49 pm

It is quite possible that unpleasant smells occur in airplanes. But they are not always due to the smelly feet of the person sitting next to you. Sometimes the machine smells like kerosene. TRAVELBOOK asked the Cockpit Association for the reasons - and how dangerous the kerosene smell actually is.

When asked by TRAVELBOOK, Janis Schmitt, Head of Press and Public Relations at Vereinigung Cockpit, explains what the smell of kerosene means in a plane: “That is basically not bad, it can only result in a strong odor, which in extreme cases can cause headaches . It is worse if you suck in exhaust gases when you start the engine. You can smell that from time to time in airplanes. If the wind blows from behind on the ground, something can briefly be sucked in through the ventilation system, so it can smell of it in the cabin. The same thing happens in cars with exhaust fumes when the ventilation is running. That is uncomfortable, but does not represent a danger as such. "

However, there is another odor trigger that can be harmful to the health of travelers: the so-called fume event.

What happens at a fume event?

In almost all aircraft, the air is tapped unfiltered through the turbines. When it comes to a fume event, also known as Contaminated Cabin Air Incidents, the cabin air has been contaminated with engine oil.

“We pilots describe the so-called fume event as the process when constituents of oil or kerosene are heated or burned to a high degree. This can result in vapors which in some cases can be sucked in. These vapors are only created at certain temperatures during the firing process. Defects in the air supply lines or in the seals can cause such a fume event. This is how fumes get into the cabin interior, ”explains Schmitt.

While the smell of kerosene tends to occur at the airport itself and not in the air, fume events can always happen.

How dangerous are fume events?

Not only is flight safety directly endangered by Contaminated Cabin Air. It can also lead to significant, irreversible damage to health. Affected people can get sick, the eyes can start to water, the airways can be irritated, you may even feel foggy, explained Schmitt.

“For the staff, such a fume event can even lead to the loss of fitness to fly. It doesn't necessarily have to be several events. How often does the dose make the poison? There are currently studies here, but they are still in their infancy. It is therefore important that all incidents of this type are documented and reported. "

In general, after a suspected fume event, those affected must see a doctor, have blood drawn and give a urine sample. In most cases, however, the incidents of smoking can no longer be determined afterwards, as the inhaled products disintegrate quickly.

How do I recognize a fume event and how do I behave?

Fume events can be recognized by a sweet smell. Often, however, they are only noticeable through symptoms such as dizziness or nausea.

If a fume event is actually detected, passengers should not breathe through the oxygen masks, which fall out of the passenger service units above the seats in the event of a pressure drop or in an emergency. The oxygen is obtained through a chemical reaction and also works with the ambient air in the cabin, as Schmitt explains.

In the cockpit, there are independent oxygen systems available for the pilots so that they can breathe pure oxygen and land the aircraft safely even in a fume event.

Otherwise, there are only a few options for action, as Schmitt further explains: “Pilots have the option of possibly switching off the ventilation circuit concerned, if this is possible and has been identified as the source of the fume. In acute cases, if, for example, billows of smoke form in the cabin or both the cockpit and passengers are affected, you should land as soon as possible. "

How can fume events be prevented?

According to estimates by the Cockpit Association, a fume event occurs on one out of 2,000 flights. As soon as a fume event occurs, it must be documented and reported. The Federal Aviation Office (LBA) will also be informed so that the causes can be investigated.

In addition, according to Schmitt, there are requirements for aircraft manufacturers that better filter systems are built into the machines and that the aircraft are maintained and retrofitted in such a way that fume events can be excluded or significantly reduced in the future.

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