Pilots risk to make mistakes in the cockpits with poor quality of air, Harvard study claims

“What we learn is that the quality of the air in the flight deck has to be a part of the conversation when we talk about the pilot performance,” says Harvard researcher and professor, said about the findings.


Although skill and years of training to determine a pilot’s ability to fly a plane, a new Harvard study claims that old cockpit air can lead to dangerous consequences in the high skies.

This week, the Harvard scientists published their findings on the matter in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. According to their study, if the air in the cockpit is out of date and contains a high content of carbon dioxide, it is more difficult for pilots to maneuver the aircraft and respond to emergencies, that could prove fatal for everyone on board.

As The Sun explains, higher levels of carbon dioxide can occur as a result of “bleed air” in the cabin, which occurs as a result of oil or other chemicals leak into the aircraft through engine seals.


In the study, teams of 30 active commercial pilots lasted for three hours per day flying in A320 flight simulators, and practicing an “increasingly difficult range of flying maneuvers” without the use of the automatic pilot, The Points Guy reports. They were under the watch of an FAA flight examiner, who scored.

The study found that the pilots working with a carbon dioxide concentration of 700 ppm (parts per million) was 52 percent greater chance of succeeding FAA standards for maneuvers, such as the prevention of air collisions, stalled engines and other similar emergencies, the pilots, the operation of the simulator with a carbon dioxide concentration of 1500 ppm.

Further, compared with a group with a CO2-concentration of 2,500 ppm, the group with 700 ppm performed 69% better.

In addition, the researchers noted impaired performance of the pilots after approximately 40 minutes, with bad air, and that the longer the pilots were in the cockpits with the so-called “bad air”, the worse they would perform.

Nevertheless, the Harvard researchers concluded, noting that the testing conditions and the results are not necessarily conditions in all of the planes or how the pilots would carry out during a flight.

“They do, but that there are important direct effects of carbon dioxide on the pilot performance at concentrations that are occasionally observed on the flight deck and in the cabin,” she added.


“What we learn is that the quality of the air in the flight deck has to be a part of the conversation when we talk about the pilot performance’, Harvard professor and lead researcher Joseph Allen told The Points Guy.

Air China Flight CA106 from Hong Kong to Dalian in China lost height a half-hour in the scheduled 5:55 pm trip.


“The findings open up a whole series of other questions we want to answer, including the impact on the long-term, the lag effect of the higher CO2 concentrations during boarding and when we see that a higher CO2.”

Meanwhile, the study did not comment on how well pilots can perform when the tub is filled with vaping vapours.

In July, a co-pilot fumes in the cockpit of an Air China flight caused the plane to take a sudden, terrifying 21,000-foot descent, which led to a series of events that led to the deployment of oxygen masks and, in turn, the termination of the pilot jobs, Fox News reported at the time.

Janine Puhak is an editor for Fox News Lifestyle. Follow her on Twitter via @JaninePuhak

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular