Within the realm of aviation, one of the most overlooked hazards is Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning. The most typical sources of CO are exhaust from: internal combustion engines (piston-driven aircraft, airside vehicles, and ground servicing equipment); aircraft turbine engine exhaust; and APU exhaust. Although CO is odorless and tasteless. It is commonly mixed with other compounds, gases, and vapors, that can be detected through smell and taste.
AVIATION AND CARBON MONOXIDE
Carbon monoxide is also created from the combustion of materials during an aircraft fire. While on the ground, CO is produced externally to an aircraft and can enter cabins and flight decks via open doors and hatches. Another possibility is that exhaust gases from other aircraft can enter unfiltered through the air and air-conditioning system. A poorly designed/maintained or damaged aircraft can result in CO and other hazardous gases seeping into the main cabin area directly or through the air-conditioning system. This can occur both on the ground and while in-flight.
- Carbon Monoxide results from the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing compounds. It is found in varying amounts in the smoke and fumes produced by aircraft engines. It is both odorless and colorless, but is usually mixed with other gases and fumes that can be detected using the senses.
- The FAA’s Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) states that pilots can begin to experience the effects of CO poisoning when their hemoglobin is saturated with as little as 10% CO.
- CO poisoning can increase with altitude. As altitude increases, air pressure decreases. The body may struggle to get enough Oxygen. Carbon Monoxide further deprives the body of Oxygen, making it even harder to effectively breathe. This complicates an already dangerous situation.
- Many private aircraft cabins are warmed from air that has circulated around the engine exhaust pipes. An issue with the exhaust pipes or cabin heating system can allow CO to enter the cabin or cockpit. The threat of CO is most prevalent in the winter because pilots rely on the cabin heating system and opt to close all windows and vents. However, CO always remains a potential threat.
It is always a good idea to check and verify the condition of the cabin heating and engine exhaust systems to avoid unintentional CO poisoning. A CO detector can be a useful tool for identifying potential problems alerting the pilot to needed maintenance and repairs.