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    carbon monoxide aviation air planes piston driven aircraft poisoning levels safety





    Carbon monoxide exposure is an important public health issue that poses a significant, albeit uncommon risk in aviation. Exposure is most common in single engine piston-driven aircraft where air is passed over the exhaust manifold to serve as cabin heat. Effective primary prevention of this exposure is the regular inspection and maintenance of aircraft exhaust systems, as required by law.

    For situations at special risk should exposure occur, and where there is concern for the public safety, installation of active warning devices for carbon monoxide intrusion into cockpits may improve secondary prevention. Modern studies should be performed of occupation-specific abilities to support the 50 ppm FAA CO exposure standard and 50-70 ppm FAA Technical Standard Order (TSO) for carbon monoxide monitors alerting pilots to the possibility of exhaust gas intrusion into their cockpits.



    carbon monoxide aviation air planes piston driven aircraft poisoning levels safety


    1. Piston powered aircraft produce high concentrations of carbon monoxide, and by design, carry the highest risk that CO can enter the cabin during flight. Because many of these aircraft are flown solo, the impact from carbon monoxide ingress can be the most severe. Typically, most piston powered aircraft obtain their cabin heating by directing fresh (ram) air over the engine muffler (silencer). If there are any cracks, holes or poorly fitting components in the exhaust system, then CO-rich exhaust gases can enter the cabin. Engine exhaust may also enter the cabin through inadequately sealed firewalls and wheel wells etc.
    2. Analysis of toxicology samples from fatal U.S. aircraft accidents between 1967 and 1993 showed that at least 360 victims 
had been exposed to sufficient carbon monoxide before or after the crash to impair their abilities. Note that some carbon monoxide poisoning occurred post-crash (probably due to fire) and that CO poisoning in these cases could not be claimed as the cause of the accident. It is possible that flight crew and passengers on piston powered aircraft have been exposed to low concentrations of carbon monoxide, and deduced that their symptoms were due to airsickness, fatigue, hypoxia etc. Because, no incapacitation occurred and the symptoms alleviated after removal from exposure, then these incidents have never been reported. 




    1. On the ground with doors and hatches open, or when taxiing behind another aircraft, carbon monoxide from external sources may enter the cabin and this will be immediately noticed by the smell of other exhaust gases.
    2. There are situations where the cabin air can become contaminated with lubricating oil, hydraulic fluids and de-icing and anti-icing fluids. These include engine and auxiliary power unit oil seal failures and inappropriate application of de-icing and anti-icing fluids into engine and APU air intakes. Of these, the only possible source for carbon monoxide is when leaking aircraft engine lubrication and hydraulic oils are subjected to high temperatures. In these circumstances these oils can, through a process known as pyrolysis, degrade into several different compounds, which, if temperatures are high enough, may include carbon monoxide.


    The best form of protection against carbon monoxide poisoning is to avoid exposure. This is best achieved by the application of an effective maintenance program in compliance with current regulations and manufacturers guidelines, and applied by appropriately qualified and licensed engineers and technicians. Particular attention should be given to the heating and ventilation system to ensure that the exhaust system components and manifolds are not leaking; especially in older aircraft. Because of the risk and severity of consequences associated with carbon monoxide and piston powered aircraft  it is sensible to have a means of CO detection and warning. 

    carbon monoxide aviation air planes piston driven aircraft poisoning levels safety



    carbon monoxide aviation air planes piston driven aircraft poisoning levels safety



    Below is a list of some methods that are practiced, and if no detection and warning system is available, then it is important that pilots are familiar with the onset symptoms and react immediately.

    • Turn the cabin heat fully off.
    • Select maximum rate of fresh air ventilation to the cabin.
    • Open windows if the environment, flight profile and operating manual permit.
    • Land as soon as possible/practicable.
    • Before continuing the flight, have the aircraft inspected by a certified mechanic


    On the ground, the solution to external sources of carbon monoxide entering the cabin and flight deck is to close doors and hatches. The air-conditioning system can either be used to ventilate the cabin or shut-off to prevent further pollution, depending on the location of the source. Overall, the effective application of mandatory maintenance programs, quality assurance and safety systems, and routine inspections and cleaning programs, greatly reduce the chances of any contaminant (including carbon monoxide) entering the aircraft from the engines and APU via the bleed air system. However, there are operational and emergency procedures to protect against hypoxia and fire, smoke and fumes.

    Please feel free to learn more about the effects of carbon monoxide in our online support section. There you will find useful data about the facts and myths of carbon monoxide. Also feel free to reach out to us and speak with one of our cutomer service technicians for more information. 

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    Whether its portable single gas meters to detect carbon monoxide in your home or complex PCB and sensor integrations into industrial networks. We have the experience and capability to deliver solid and reliable environmental data wherever and whenever you need it. 




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