Toxic Airline Air? Airlines Won't Say

The airlines have refused to turn over information to the National Academy of Sciences for a Congressionally-mandated study on air quality onboard aircraft.

A Congressionally-mandated study on air quality onboard aircraft has become increasingly difficult for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to complete because the airlines have refused to provide information on maintenance and flight incident reports.

The information will allow the NAS to correlate reported illness with these records to determine the origin of persistent air quality problems that have plagued the industry for years.

The study was created as a part of the Aviation Investment and Reform Act (AIR-21), which was signed into law on April 5, 2000.

However, despite repeated requests, to date the NAS has not received any information from any company on the hydraulic fluids and engine oils believed responsible for causing air quality problems onboard aircraft.

On March 7, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., authored a letter to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Jane Garvey urging her to ensure the airlines turn over the necessary information for the NAS to move forward with the study.

"It is a shame that the airlines need to be forced by the FAA to provide this information," said Patricia Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants International. "People are getting sick. Congress is trying to figure out why, but the airlines refuse to help. Meanwhile, we''re losing precious time as this vital study is delayed."

According to the letter from Feinstein and Nadler, the companies have cited propriety concerns for refusing to produce their records even though they have been guaranteed confidential treatment by the NAS.

The letter also notes that the committee is specifically interested in information from United Airlines, America West and Alaska Airlines given the different routes and type of aircraft these airlines operate.

"The airlines seem to be valuing their business interests more than the health of their crews and passengers," said Friend. "There is no time for excuses. This information needs to be turned over immediately so the NAS committee can continue its work at its next meeting on April 17."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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