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    Mitigating Carbon Monoxide (CO) Risks in the Aviation Industry

    For aviation professionals — including ground crew, technicians, inspectors, and pilots — being aware of the potential for carbon monoxide (CO) exposure and poisoning is crucial for eliminating safety hazards and preventing accidents.

    CO is odorless and tasteless, a feature that makes it particularly dangerous, as the symptoms can easily overcome someone before they have an indication that there is a problem.

    In aviation, CO is commonly produced by equipment such as piston-driven aircraft, ground servicing equipment, and airside vehicles. Turbine engine aircraft exhaust and auxiliary power unit (APU) exhaust can also contribute to the accumulation of unsafe levels of CO.

    Responsibilities and Challenges for the Aviation Professional

    There are many carbon monoxide risks in aviation, including many situations in which aviation personnel can be exposed to carbon monoxide (CO).

    Technicians, pilots, and inspectors must stay aware of emission sources of CO, including typical on-the-ground situations such a pre-flight checks and routine inspections and maintenance.

    It’s important to note that CO exposure can also result from sources outside the aircraft. For example, CO drift can occur when ground servicing equipment or other aircraft are idling nearby, adversely affecting the in-cabin atmosphere.

    Additionally, poorly maintained or damaged internal equipment can also pose a serious risk.

    The FAA has calculated that pilots with as little as 10% CO hemoglobin saturation can experience the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. These effects increase with altitude as the body is further deprived of oxygen. But ground crew and technicians can also experience the negative effects of CO — some of which can result in permanent damage to heart, lungs, and other body systems.


    Sources of Carbon Monoxide in Aviation Equipment

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found that from 1967 to 1993, 360 victims of aircraft crashes had impaired abilities due to carbon monoxide exposure. The most common ways to encounter CO in an aviation environment include:

    • Internal combustion engines typically found in piston-driven aircraft and some ground servicing equipment
    • Exhaust from aircraft turbine engines
    • Exhaust from auxiliary power units (APU)
    • Externally produced CO entering flight decks from nearby vehicles
    • Degraded door and window seals
    • Air ducting leaks

    While this is not a comprehensive list, it does provide insight into the myriad ways CO can become a serious problem for aviation professionals.

    Protecting Pilots and Crew from Carbon Monoxide Exposure

    The U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) has advised that aircraft maintenance personnel provide a thorough inspection of exhaust systems, air ducting, firewalls, and door and window seals both at the annual inspection and during routine 100-hour inspections.

    Signs of possible CO issues include:

    • Soot at the cockpit vents
    • A smoky odor in the cockpit
    • Worn exhaust slip joints
    • A drop in engine RPM with the application of carburetor heat
    • Exhaust system holes or cracks
    • Cracked heat exchanger in the cabin heating system
    • Openings in the engine firewall
    • Defective mufflers and gaskets in the exhaust manifold
    • Blowby at the engine breather
    • Fuselage strut fittings with inadequate sealing

    In addition, the FAA recommends the installation of CO detectors and the use of CO detection equipment during preflight checks, inspections, and maintenance.

    All aircraft should be subject to strict routine maintenance and inspection protocols as outlined by the FAA to reduce the possibility of unsafe levels of carbon monoxide infiltrating the aircraft.

    In addition, monitoring CO levels using a CO inspection and detection device is a sensible and noteworthy precaution.

    To learn more about the effects of CO poisoning, please review Understanding the Effects of Carbon Monoxide.

    Using Carbon Monoxide Meters to Detect and Monitor Carbon Monoxide Levels

    The Sensorcon AV8 Inspector is a trusted tool used by pilots, aviation technicians and mechanics, and aircraft inspectors for detecting and identifying the source of carbon monoxide leaks.

    Low-to-moderate carbon monoxide (CO) levels in the cabin are indicative of a leak. After ruling out possible outside sources of carbon monoxide, for example another aircraft or ground vehicle idling nearby, the professional can use the Sensorcon AV8 Inspector to check specific areas of the aircraft to identify potential issues.

    The Sensorcon AV8 Inspector is a portable and reliable carbon monoxide meter (CO meter) that was designed in the USA and assembled in our manufacturing facility located in Buffalo, NY.

    The CO meter provides you with real-time readings all the way from 0 to 2000 PPM and is used by professionals to monitor or inspect for carbon monoxide.

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