• All UK airlines are legally required to report any occurrences that could have, or did, endanger aircraft occupants within 72 hours. Airlines are also required to carry out appropriate levels of analysis of a potential incident and determine any further action that may help improve aviation safety. This applies to all types of occurrences including those relating to fire, smoke, fumes or smells.

    Fire, fumes, smoke and smells

    There are over one million UK passenger flights operated by UK registered airlines each year.

    Between 1st December 2014 and 30th November 2016 the CAA received a total of 1,672 reports from UK airlines relating to occurrences involving fire, fumes, smoke or smells inside the aircraft cabin. This represents three per cent of all occurrence reports sent to the CAA in that period.

    Engine bleed air

    We recognise that there is strong interest in fume events, particularly those that relate to 'engine bleed air', which some people have suggested could impact on people’s health. Based on the available data, occurrences relating to engine bleed air are very rare and confirmed incidents form five per cent of the total number of fume event reports we receive each year.

    It is acknowledged that people who experience a fume event (of any type) may report symptoms such as irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. These symptoms usually resolve, however, once the fumes or smell have disappeared.

    A number of studies have been carried out in this area, including Government-commissioned research. Long term ill health due to any toxic effect from cabin air is understood to be unlikely, although such a link cannot be ruled out.

    The data

    We have analysed the information in the reports provided by the airlines for the period set out above and found that five per cent (82) of the fire, fume, smoke or smell-related occurrences reported were confirmed engine bleed air related incidents.

    Our analysis also found 49 per cent (819) of the reported occurrences did not relate to engine bleed air. There will be a variety of sources for these fume occurrences in the cabin including food, cleaning products and toilets.36 per cent (603) of the reports provided to the CAA did not provide a clear conclusion regarding the specific occurrence. Whilst we would like to understand the cause of all occurrences, we also recognise that such events can be transient and it may not be possible for airlines to determine the specific source.

    Finally, a further 10 per cent (168) of reports included information that confirmed engineering investigations had found no fault with the aircraft.

  • “Our priority is always the safety of passengers and crew and we continue to work with airlines, manufacturers and international regulators to drive improvements in safety standards across the industry.

    "We understand the concerns that have been raised about cabin air quality and we take very seriously any suggestions that people have suffered ill health from their experience of aviation.

    "We rely on guidance from scientific experts based on the results of a number of independent studies and evidence reviews - including Government commissioned research. Long term ill health due to any toxic effect from cabin air is understood to be unlikely, although such a link cannot be ruled out.

    "A recent study commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which maintains responsibility for approving the safety of aircraft and setting aviation standards for European airlines, concluded that the air quality on flights it tested was similar or better than that observed in normal indoor environments.

    “We continue to support steps to further develop understanding the air quality on board aircraft, including a further research by the European Commission being undertaken in conjunction with EASA.”