Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

EMF Studies

06 March 2013

Two Incidents of Pilots Fainting in Flight on Alaska Airlines

This “comment” is written by Dr. Todd Curtis, licensed pilot and Founder of AirSafe.com. He was a flight test engineer in the U.S. Air Force, and while an airline safety engineer at Boeing, was directly involved in numerous plane crash investigations. He comments on the two recent incidents of Alaska Airlines pilots losing consciousness in flight. “Evidently, all these Alaska Airlines jets are WiFi-enabled.” He believes that the appropriate authorities, including the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) should take a serious look at in-flight Wi-Fi.

Dr. Magda Havas, Associate Professor of Environmental & Resource Studies at Trent University, Canada, and expert on the biological effects of electromagnetic pollution, comments:

"The cockpit of an airplane is already electromagnetically polluted by low frequency (400 Hz) magnetic fields associated with the internal wires (that typically run through conduits behind both the pilot and co-pilot) and that are generated by the heating of the windows (to keep them flexible); to the radar; to the "coming soon" Wi-Fi radiation. That combined with being in polluted airports, cosmic radiation, changes in time-zones, job-stress, and sleep issues may produce the perfect storm...

"There are certain professions that are responsible for the lives of many and pilots and co-pilots are near the top of that list. We need to take this situation seriously if we want to avert a disaster. Even in the event that we are wrong about electrosmog making pilots faint, practicing good electromagnetic hygiene on board civilian and military aircrafts is a good idea."

February, 2013 - Two Incidents of Pilots Fainting In Flight

Alaska Airlines said an unspecified illness caused one of its pilots to lose consciousness
while flying a Boeing 737-700, leading the copilot to declare an emergency. While the aircraft
was at cruising altitude, the pilot – with 28 years of experience – stood up, became dizzy, lost
consciousness and fell to the floor. There was a similar fainting episode on January 22, also
on an Alaska Airlines aircraft. In that case, the copilot briefly lost consciousness in flight. In
both cases, the pilots held current medical certificates. There could be several contributing
factors. Evidently, all these Alaska Airlines jets are WiFi-enabled. Potential adverse effects
from this exposure can include nausea, vertigo and fainting. Was this a contributing factor?

"My name is Dr Todd Curtis. I am a licensed pilot and Founder of AirSafe.com. In the US Air Force I was a flight test engineer, and while an airline safety engineer at Boeing, I was directly involved in numerous plane crash investigations. I hold a PhD in Aviation Risk Assessment. I have been a frequent on-air aviation expert on CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, Fox News, CBC, BBC, Discovery Channel, NPR, and numerous other major news media outlets around the world.

The issue of in-flight wi-fi has recently been brought to my attention by Dr. Kerry Crofton and her colleagues. Although the risk of radio frequency radiation from wi-fi and other electrical systems hasn't been looked at as a health and safety risk by the aviation community, the fact that some quarters of the medical and scientific communities have shown that this may be a risk is a concern to me.

In reviewing this material sent to me by Dr. Crofton, it seems there is enough evidence to warrant further investigation.

I am not aware of any tests on in-flight wi-fi systems, or if there is a requirement, with respect to potential health effects on flight crews. However, it appears this new technology has been tested with respect to its effect on the electrical, communications, and navigation systems.

It would make sense for the appropriate authorities, including the FAA, to take a serious look at this issue; one part of the FAA that seems best equipped to look at this is the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI.)

Reportedly, there have been separate incidents of two pilots fainting while in flight – apparently on aircraft with wi-fi installations. This could be a huge red flag. That sort of event in the air, with individual pilots being incapacitated, isn't consistently reported in the US because there is no clear legal or regulatory requirement to do so.

Because a wi-fi installation could expose all flight crew members to a potentially incapacitating condition, it is a situation that could affect all flight crew members at the same time.

Anything that could simultaneously incapacitate all flight crew members would be a major concern. If this were to happen, the flight crew, cabin crew, and passengers could very quickly be in 'a world of hurt.'

The concern is not just for the pilots; it is also for the cabin crew. The cabin crew's biggest job is safety - if they are incapacitated that is also a potential problem, especially during any kind of emergency situation.

There no question that being online while in flight is very attractive for passengers, but there is at least one very tragic case where a system that was installed just for passenger entertainment has led to a catastrophic accident.

The 1998 Swissair crash at Peggy's Cove was due to an damage from an in-flight fire that was caused by an electrical problem in the passenger entertainment system. Like the current and proposed airliner wi-fi systems, this system was there only for the passengers' benefit, and provided no improvement to the aircraft's performance. As entertainment and communication technology advances in this digital age, passengers are looking for in-flight wi-fi, and this is an obvious income generating opportunity for the airlines.

I don't fault the airlines for looking for ways to satisfy customers while creating more revenue-generating opportunities.

However, it is the aviation regulatory bodies' responsibility to ensure that any new technology that is introduced into an aircraft does not have a negative effect on the health and safety of the passengers, cabin crews, and flight crews.

As many of the experts in Dr Crofton's document have stated - there is no evidence that this new wi-fi technology has been tested for short and long term health effects on the crew, or that wi-fi related health problems of flight crews, cabin crews, or passengers are being systematically tracked.

It is therefore quite reasonable to ask if radio frequency radiation exposure from onboard wi-fi systems can cause or has caused pilots to faint while flying a commercial airliner.

As you may know, there is no legal requirement for monitoring these kinds of events, But it doesn't mean that the information is impossible to acquire. As I stated in my first book 'Understanding Aviation Safety Data,' there are several key questions that one should ask when trying to understand a potential, or previously ignored, safety risk. Among those questions are:
who would know, who would care, and who would care enough to record the information. If those three basic questions could be answered, one could begin to systematically address the
potential risk.

Todd Curtis, PhD

This link is to an article by Kerry Crofton regarding microwave radiation on planes and the possibility of it adversely affecting pilots, aircrew and passengers.


See also http://radiationrescue.org/

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