CHAPTER 2: BACKGROUND TO THE INQUIRY
OF MASS CIVIL AVIATION
2.1 Few destinations anywhere
on earth are now more than one or two flights away. Both business
and leisure are shaped by the ready availability of affordable
air transport. Enormous numbers take advantage of this. Annually,
the world's airlines carry a staggering total of approaching some
two billion passengers.
At any one moment, about half a million people world-wide are
flying in commercial aircraft (p 288).
2.2 Such mass travel has developed only over the
last forty years. Indeed, powered heavier than air flight was
widely dismissed as impossible only a century ago. Orville Wright
proved doubters wrong in 1903 with a flight of 196 feet, or barely
two-thirds the wingspan of the largest modern airliners. With
the military stimulus of the troubled 20th century, aircraft were
developed rapidly thereafter.
2.3 Purposeful civil aviation
arrived in the 1920s, best marked in the United Kingdom by the
formation of Imperial Airways in 1924. During the 1930s, a world-wide
network of commercial routes was developed. Air travel was, however,
the preserve of those who were both wealthy and determined: the
early flights from London to Australia took twelve days and involved
up to five changes of aircraft with over forty re-fuelling stops.
2.4 Civil aviation came of age only in the 1950s
with the widespread introduction of longer range jet aircraft.
Thanks to pressurised cabins, these could fly high enough - 26,000-42,000
- to avoid the bulk of weather disturbances and to use fuel more
efficiently. Additional design and technical improvements have
brought yet more efficient aircraft, facilitating the mass market
for air travel that exists today. Some outline indications of
the growth of UK air travel over the last twenty years and its
nature today are set out in Box 1.
The growth and nature of UK air travel
During the last twenty years:
Passenger numbers have more than trebled (being 2.5 times greater for domestic flights and 3.5 times greater for international travel)
Among international travellers, business passengers have doubled and leisure passengers have quadrupled
Female business passengers have doubled to 20% of the total, while female leisure travellers have remained at just over half the total
Nine out of ten passengers travel internationally, although only one in ten travels outside the EU
85% of business travellers are in the age range 25-54, compared to 55% of leisure travellers
Nearly one in ten leisure travellers is aged under 15 years old while another one in ten is aged more than 65
Nearly three quarters of leisure and a third of business passengers travel on charter or discount economy class tickets
Nearly all business passengers are in socio-economic groups A-C1 while a quarter of leisure travellers are in groups C2-E
Source: Calculated by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology from data in annual issues of Transport Statistics, Great Britain, The Stationery Office; and Passengers at Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester Airports in 1998 (CAP703), CAA, November 1999
2.5 Development seems bound
to continue. There is no sign of any abatement in the growing
appetite for air travel. The International Air Transport Association
(IATA) predicts continuing air traffic growth at 5-6% annually,
twice the rate of general economic growth.
Over the next twenty years, The Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions (DETR) forecasts UK-origin passenger
numbers to double
and Airbus Industrie predicts a trebling of global traffic.
2.6 The technology will also change. For example,
Airbus Industrie announced the long-range 600+ seat A3XX aircraft
during the course of this Inquiry. They also forecast
that, over the next twenty years, aircraft seating more than 400
passengers would increase from one in a hundred to one in five
of all passenger aircraft and that mid-range aircraft seating
100-175 passengers would fall from just over half to about a third
of the total.
REASONS FOR THE INQUIRY
2.7 As explored in this Report,
the aircraft cabin has a number of unusual features, and the combination
of these makes for a unique environment. There is now a much larger
number and, in terms of age and state of health, wider range of
people travelling by air - and thus exposed to that unique environment
- than thirty or forty years ago. Our concern was that arrangements
to safeguard passenger and crew health might not have been keeping
pace with, on the one hand, the changing nature of air travel
and travellers and, on the other, improving knowledge of links
between health and environmental factors. All this was reinforced
by growing public concern in the press and elsewhere.
2.8 The Inquiry was conducted
by Sub-Committee II, which also prepared this Report. The Sub-Committee
membership and declaration of interests are set out in Appendix
1. Our Specialist Adviser was Dr D Michael Davies, a consultant
in occupational and environmental medicine, with special experience
of passenger and crew health.
We are grateful for his assistance in considering the many medical
and technical questions that arose during the Inquiry.
2.9 Against the background
set out above, our general objectives for the Inquiry were as
(a) to establish current knowledge (and any
gaps) about the health implications of the commercial aircraft
(b) to examine the extent to which that knowledge
(i) the present national and international
(ii) other design matters at the discretion of aircraft manufacturers
(iii) maintenance arrangements;
(iv) guidance to passengers and crew; and
(v) public concern about these issues;
(c) to explore the effectiveness of the present
regulatory structures and other arrangements; and
(d) to make recommendations as necessary.
2.10 To gather material for
our purposes, the call for evidence reproduced in Appendix 2 was
issued in March 2000. To help keep the focus on what has, as expected,
turned out to be a complex area, three topics were explicitly
excluded from the Inquiry. These were:
(a) general air safety and in-cabin physical
safety (including "air rage") which were considered
by the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment, Transport
and Regional Affairs in 1999;
(b) military and private aviation; and
(c) the environmental effects of air travel.
2.11 We received a large
volume of evidence from a wide range of sources, listed in Appendix
3. We are grateful to all of those concerned for their help in
clarifying the issues. The written evidence was complemented by
oral evidence received at eight public hearings in May and June
2000. The oral evidence and most of the written evidence is published
in Volume II of this Report.
2.12 As noted in paragraph 2.7, our concerns were
echoed by concerns among the wider public. Among our written evidence
were many letters from individuals about their particular experiences,
as summarised in Appendix 4. While this material is not statistically
representative, it does lend colour and immediacy to the more
technical submissions received.
2.13 To help us prepare for reviewing the technical
evidence that was to be received, some of us visited British Airways
Maintenance, Cardiff (BAMC) in April 2000 to see at first hand
the mechanisms for controlling environmental conditions in the
aircraft cabin. A note of that visit is in Appendix 5. We are
grateful to all those involved for providing a helpful introduction
to the topic.
2.14 As part of a wider examination
of air safety questions, an Australian Senate Committee has inquired
into complaints about cabin air quality in the BAe 146 aircraft.
was published on 12 October 2000, and we have been able to take
account of its findings in our Report.
OF THIS REPORT
2.15 Chapter 1 of this Report
gives an overview of our findings. They flow from our consideration
of a wide variety of inter-related medical, technical and other
matters. The rest of this Report is structured to provide a guide
through all that detailed material, as below. In each case we
rehearse the issues that arise, often prompted by complaints we
have received; discuss these in the light of the views of expert
witnesses, regulators and the air travel industry; and set out
our own views.
- To clarify the general background, Chapter 3
describes the regulatory structures and outlines the way they
bear on the health of passengers and crew.
- As the majority of representations we received
concerned the quality of cabin air, Chapter 4 considers the elements
of healthy air for passengers and crew.
- Given those respiratory and other needs, Chapter
5 discusses the practical provision of a healthy cabin atmosphere.
- Turning to what we consider to be the main medical
concern, Chapter 6 discusses deep vein thrombosis (DVT) together
with associated issues of seating, stress and the scope for harmful
interaction between aspects of the cabin environment.
- In Chapter 7, we deal with the other significant
medical matters arising from the Inquiry, namely: the transmission
of infection; the effects of the cabin environment on vulnerable
individuals; and the handling of in-flight medical emergencies
- Chapter 8 discusses a variety of wider issues
needing to be addressed, in particular the availability of information.
- In Chapter 9, we then draw together a number
of inter-related strands with some concluding broad-ranging points.
2.16 The abbreviations and
technical terms used in this Report are generally explained only
the first time they are used. For convenience, they are all listed
in Appendix 6.
4 The 1997 Annual Report of the Council of the
International Civil Aviation Organisation noted a global total
of some 1.5 billion passengers for that year, and estimated that
2 billion passengers would be carried annually by 2005. Back
50,000-60,000 feet for Concorde. Back
Throughout this Report, we follow the aviation industry's standard
use of a variety of non-metric and metric units. Back
We discuss the limited availability of these sorts of data in
paragraph 8.20. Back
Global Market Forecast 2000-2019, Airbus Industrie, July
Fuller details are in Appendix 1. Back
Aviation Safety, 4th Report, Session 1999-2000, HC Paper
Air Safety and Cabin Air Quality in the BAe 146 Aircraft,
report by the Australian Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and
Transport References Committee, October 2000, ISBN 0 642 71093